Published in The Times 10 November 2023 

Retirement homes with stairs are a boon for active residents who want to ‘move it, not lose it’, says Jane Slade

The Netflix series Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones featured a hilltop village on the Italian island of Sardinia. It revealed that one of the secrets to the population’s longevity was walking up and down steep hills.

Active ageing is now recognised as a priority to prevent people over the age of 60 from becoming prone to diabetes, strokes and long-term care. “Move it or lose it” is an irrefutable axiom.

It’s a lifestyle that is being embraced by Norton Harries, 77, who lives at Orchard Yard, a retirement scheme operated by Cognatum in Wingham, Kent. “I like walking but don’t use walking poles and don’t use the rail when walking up the stairs—it’s like a mini workout. I ache a bit but try to do 12,000 steps every other day.” he says.

Harries lives in a semi-detached three-bedroom house. “I do my own gardening and have two flights of stairs,” he says. “There is provision for a stairlift but I don’t ever intent to put one in”.

The popularity of retirement homes with stairs is increasing, propelled by retired people who realise the value of keeping active.

Brian Long, 76, a former bank manager, and his wife, Jackie, 73, live in a three-bedroom cottage at Audley St Elphin’s Park in Derbyshire. Having a home with stairs was so important to them that they ripped out the stairlift when they moved in three years ago.

They also make use of the facilities at St Elphin’s, a retirement community set in 14 acres of the Derbyshire Dales with a gym, swimming pool, fitness studio, restaurant, and library. “My wife goes swimming three mornings a week and I am a keen walker,” he says.

Brian has trekked in Nepal and walked most of the long-distance footpaths in the UK. For active people like Brian and Jackie a cottage is the ideal halfway step to downsizing.

“Our cottage resembles our original home and makes us feel more independent,” Brian explains. “It’s also nice having a mix of cottages in the community as it feels more like a proper village.”

“While we have property owners who are interested in apartments with only one floor, there is also significant interest in split-level housing,” Nick Sanderson, the chief executive of the Audley Group, says.

Anthony Cordle, 84, chose an apartment with stairs at Pegasus Homes’ Steepleton community in Tetbury in Gloucestershire.

“I settled on a particular mezzanine apartment, with views out onto the outdoor swimming pool. I particularly wanted stairs because I believe you have to keep moving in your later years,” he says.

“Just because you reach the age of 65, it doesn’t mean you become allergic to stairs, indeed a lot of retired people still like to go upstairs to bed,” David Tate, the sales manager at Shiplake Meadows, a retirement community near Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire, says.

Jane Slade is founder of the retirement property and care home website

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Cognatum, a not-for-profit company, has 60 retirement estates in 21 counties across central and southern England, a total of 928 retirement homes. All are in prime locations within vibrant market towns or villages, within walking distance of shops and restaurants. Each estate benefits from thoughtful architecture, landscaped grounds, and a dedicated estate manager.