• About the Project

About the Project

What Is Seniors USP?

Very few older adults reach the recommended levels of activity for health. In the UK, the estimated direct cost of physical inactivity to the NHS is £10 billion. Most health promotion initiatives have focussed on increasing levels of moderate physical activity or specific forms of exercising for health. Such initiatives could have substantial financial impact: The draft Scottish Charter for Physical Activity reports an economic benefit of £85.2 million if the number of inactive Scots was reduced by 1% each year for the next five years. 

However, new evidence suggests that too much sitting (sedentary behaviour) is a distinct health risk, independent of other physical activity behaviours and older people spend a great deal of their time sitting. Seniors USP is an MRC funded project which aims to understand more about the sedentary patterns of older adults.

People who are physically active as they get older are more likely to remain healthy and independent, whatever their circumstances. High levels of sedentary behaviour are associated with poor health, regardless of how physically active a person is at other points in the day. Although older people spend more time sitting than other age groups, surprisingly little research attention has been devoted to either understanding in detail the link between sedentary behaviour and health or finding out what factors determine how active or sedentary older people are.

Working in collaboration

We have assembled a team of researchers with a wide range of knowledge, skills and experience of working in collaboration with older people to try to unpick these important questions. Our team has been working with two large groups (cohorts) of older people living in and around Edinburgh (since 2004) and Glasgow (since 1987). We asked 750 members of these cohorts to wear a small device for a week that will give us an accurate (objective) measurement of how active and sedentary they are over that period. We will compare our objective measurements with participants’ own estimates of how active and sedentary they have been over the same period.

Using these data and the information about these peoples’ daily life, activities and health collected during our cohort studies, we investigated the relationship between previous individual, social and environmental factors and older people’s current sedentary and activity levels. We also examined the effect of being sedentary and largely inactive on a person’s health. This will help us identify those people who are most at risk of becoming more sedentary and less active in later life. For example, there is some evidence from the Glasgow group that working class men may be particularly vulnerable to inactivity when they retire.

In addition, we interviewed 48 of these cohort members (equal numbers of men and women of different ages and social class who are currently active or inactive) to understand: 

  • their views about being sedentary
  • what they do while they are sitting and
  • how important these activities are to them

We will also asked them about their knowledge about sedentary behaviour and the links between being sedentary and ill health and ways older people might be encouraged to become less sedentary and the barriers that might stop them doing so. We will also understand how receptive different groups of older people (e.g. men vs. women) might be to suggestions about changing their sedentary activities.

Taken together, these views and understandings of the positive and negative aspects of being sedentary will help to design more effective interventions to encourage older people to become less sedentary and more physically active.

Who Will Benefit?

The beneficiaries of this research will include older people, researchers, policy makers, service providers and health/social care/fitness professionals.

We will work closely with our Dissemination Advisory Group, through reports, recommendations and the internet, to impact on the culture and practice with service providers and professionals working with older people in the NHS, social care, sheltered housing, residential care and the fitness industry and to engage with government as well as  non-governmental, third sector and the commercial private sector.

The team have strong links with both national and international organisations and initiatives dedicated to increasing physical activity amongst older people that would benefit from the knowledge gained and provision of practice oriented literature, webinars and short video clips to help change culture and knowledge in their areas of expertise.  In short, this research has the potential to impact on the Nation’s quality of life through encouraging changes in culture and practice, across all the potential beneficiaries, to reduce long periods of sedentary behaviour and move more often.

Project groups

Ongoing Funding

Within Seniors USP, WP4, led by the University of Glasgow, aimed to understand why older people sit, and what they do when they are not sitting. The team has conducted in-depth interviews with 44 older men and women on their views of sedentary behaviour. The interviews provide rich and novel insights on when sitting is important and not important to older adults, and when and how sitting could potentially be replaced with non-sitting activities.

The University of Glasgow team has secured some additional funding from the Economic and Social Research Council to collaborate with Paths for All to translate the results from Seniors USP into new guidance and interventions to support older people to sit less. The project ran from December 2016 to October 2017, and had three main objectives:

  • Objective 1: To develop sedentary behaviour information resources (e.g. a top tips cue card)
  • Objective 2: To develop and pilot training materials on reducing sedentary behaviour for integration into existing Paths for All walk-leader training courses.
  • Objective 3: To describe the key components and delivery mechanism of a future intervention to reduce sedentary behaviour in older adults.

To find out more, download a briefing sheet.