News & Insights 21 April 2022

REACT: preventing physical decline in over 65s with mobility issues

A long-term study into the effectiveness of a community-based group exercise programme has found that the Retirement in Action (REACT) programme can prevent physical decline in older adults (65+) who suffer with mobility issues. Researchers from the Universities of Bath, Birmingham, Exeter and West of England (UWE Bristol) who conducted the study concluded that the programme should be made available to all over 65s with mobility issues in the UK.

What is REACT?

It is a behaviour change intervention targeted at older adults who are beginning to experience problems with mobility, such as joint stiffness, muscle pain and/or weakness and are finding everyday tasks challenging. This was determined by the Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB), and those who scored between 4 and 9 were included. REACT aims to prevent further decline in mobility by utilising exercises that target lower limb strength, balance, and stamina, with the focus of the programme being on fun, social interactions and fostering a better sense of community.

Funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) – Public Health Research programme, the REACT programme was conducted in Bath, Bristol, Birmingham and Devon over four and half years, and involved a total of 777 participants aged 65 and over. Participants were randomly assigned into either an intervention or a control group. The intervention group attended group-based exercise sessions throughout the REACT programme; twice a week for three months and then once a week for a further nine months. Individuals in the control group attended three ‘healthy ageing’ sessions over the course of a year.

The researchers found that:

  • 12 months after completing the  REACT programme, the participants who had attended group-based exercise sessions had significantly greater mobility than those who did not, suggesting both a short and long-term positive intervention effect.
  • REACT programme participants found it easier to walk climb the stairs, and demonstrated greater independence whilst performing normal everyday activities.
  • A minimum of one strength, balance, and mobility exercise session per week was sufficient to provide meaningful benefits on lower limb physical function.
  • Per person, the cost of delivering the programme was £622, but the health care savings amounted to £725 over the course of two years. This evidence suggests that longer-term cost-savings could be far higher.

Professor Afroditi Stathi, REACT Chief Investigator from the University of Birmingham, commented: “Physical activity carries a wide range of benefits for older people including a longer and healthier life, prolonged independence and autonomy, better mobility and improved wellbeing. Yet, many older people face a downward spiral of declining mobility, whereby the less active they are, the more limited they become.”

“Through REACT we have shown that this steady decline is avoidable. It can be prevented, or in many cases be reversed through an exercise programme that is individually tailored and progressive.”

Dr Max Western of the University of Bath’s Department for Health explained: “The aim of REACT was always to have real impacts on people’s lives. Given these significant results, we are calling on healthcare professionals and policymakers to draw on our findings and implement similar REACT sessions in other parts of the country. Our studies show just how effective REACT can be; we hope many more people will soon be able to benefit from it in the way our participants did.”

The team of researchers now hope that the REACT programme can be rolled out nationwide via community-based activity providers in local areas. 

This study highlights the importance of staying active into later life, and the risks of becoming inactive as we age. Even small changes to your lifestyle to incorporate more movement can help to maintain mobility, independence, and result in a better quality of life as we age. At KiActiv®, we have worked with many older clients to empower them to self-manage their health and improve their personal physical activity in a way which suits their health status, preferences and surroundings. It is never too late to take positive steps towards improving your health, so why not begin your journey to a happier, healthier you today, and get started with KiActiv®.