Some see another wet week. We see a risk of muscle wastage.

Researchers in our Department for Health are helping older people to live independently for longer by testing whether a decline in mobility and physical function can be slowed, stopped or even reversed in the over 65s.

REACT, (REtirement in ACTion) offers a specially designed 12-month physical activity and social programme to target people who are starting to find everyday activities, such as walking, climbing stairs or getting up from a chair, difficult.

Recent research shows that the most active older people need fewer prescriptions and are less likely to be admitted to hospital in an emergency. A fit and active older person has a 36 per cent lower risk of developing disabilities and a 38 per cent lower risk of hip fracture. There is also strong evidence that greater physical activity can help protect against cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers as well as reducing the risk of depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

However, people over 65 years are the least active in society. The percentage of people aged 65 and over is also currently the highest in UK history, accounting for over 10 million. Current projections suggest a rise by 5.5 million over the next 20 years and for numbers to have nearly doubled by 2050. Not only does avoiding health problems lead to a greater quality of life for older adults, our researchers have also found that it reduces the impact on the NHS and social care services.

“This is a unique opportunity for us to test a programme which could lead to substantial gains for both individuals and wider society. We are building on a programme that has already been successful in the US so we are optimistic that we can deliver real benefits to the people who take part.” Dr Afroditi Stathi

REACT participants are invited to undergo a state-of-the-art fMRI scan, allowing the team to assess the direct effect of exercise on the brain and to provide robust evidence on the impact of an active lifestyle on cognitive function in later life. They also follow a programme of cardiovascular, strength, co-ordination and flexibility exercises based in health clubs and fitness centres.

Chief Investigator, Dr Afroditi Stathi said: “What is really exciting is that we are working across England, across inner cities, suburban and rural settings to get a real understanding of whether this programme can deliver benefits for older people from all walks of life. We have built excellent relationships with our partners who support us in delivering REACT in community settings. Our long-term goal is for REACT to continue to be delivered by our partners after the end of the research phase, not only for the participants but for all older people who face mobility difficulties.”

Related links

Find out more about Afroditi Stathi

Find out more about the REtirement in ACTion (REACT) study

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