SOCIAL distancing is increasing feelings of loneliness in Scotland's older population and impacting their wellbeing, research has found.

That's according to a new University of Stirling study that has identified a link between elevated levels of loneliness in over 60s and the worsening of wellbeing and health.

Increasing loneliness due to social distancing was also associated with a smaller social network and lower perceived social support.

The findings emerge from research launched under the Scottish Government's Chief Scientist Office Rapid Research in Covid-19 programme in May.

Professor Anna Whittaker, of the University's faculty of health sciences and sport, led the work and hopes it will help to inform decision-making on the virus and support post-pandemic recovery strategies.

She said: "We know that social distancing guidelines introduced in response to Covid-19 have restricted social activity engagement and impacted vulnerable groups, including older adults.

"Our study, which involved a survey of more than 1,400 older people, examined the impact of social distancing during the pandemic on social activity, loneliness and wellbeing.

"The majority of survey participants reported that social distancing has made them experience more loneliness, social contact with fewer people, and less social contact overall.

"We found that a larger social network and better perceived social support seems to be protective against loneliness and poorer health and wellbeing, due to social distancing.

"This underlines the importance of addressing loneliness and social contact in older adults, but particularly during pandemics or situations where the risk of isolation is high."

Using the same survey data, the research also considered the impact of social distancing on physical activity.

The majority of participants reported continuing to meet physical activity guidelines during lockdown – with 35 percent moderately active and 41 percent highly active.

Walking was the greatest contributor to total physical activity, with just over a quarter (26.4%) walking more than before lockdown.

Forty percent of people said they were walking less, compared to before lockdown, and a similar proportion were engaging in less moderate physical activity. Those who reported in engaging in lower physical activity had poorer wellbeing.

Prof Whittaker said: "Physical activity engagement during lockdown varied and this study indicates a positive link with wellbeing – supporting the notion that physical activity should be considered an important contributor in recovery strategies targeted at older adults as we emerge from the pandemic."