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£1.1m research study will identify ways to engage older adults in exercise

The UK Research and Innovation fund (UKRI) has given £1.1m towards new research
The funding will support a 24-month study by Sheffield Hallam University and Manchester Metropolitan University
Research will look at why many older adults do not go to the gym and how the sector can better engage them
Sheffield Hallam University will design gamification tools to motivate older adults to exercise
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UKRI (UK Research and Innovation) is backing research to investigate the

lack of older adults accessing facilities for exercise and the barriers they face.

The supported funding programme – worth £1.1m (US$1.3 €1.3) – will last 24 months and be delivered through a partnership between the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre (AWRC) at Sheffield Hallam University, Manchester Metropolitan University and Innverva – formerly called Shapemaster – a company which makes power-assisted exercise equipment.

Areas of research will include an examination of how operators can improve engagement with this market and the potential for the development of tools for helping operators provide exercise solutions for older adults.

According to the UK government’s All Our Health resource, by 2035 over half of all adults in the UK will be 50-years--of-age or older, however, with an overall increase in life expectancy, older adults can be expected to live in poor health for longer.

Many older adults also experienced physical deconditioning during the pandemic and the research will aim to mobilise leaders, managers and health and care professionals to promote healthy, active ageing.

“Powered exercise equipment is already highly effective in helping older adults and people with therapeutic or rehabilitation needs,” said Paul Smith, professor at Manchester Metropolitan University. “This project will enable them to further develop their offerings and help to dramatically increase the number of people able to access and benefit from these types of exercise machines.”

Around 70 clubs in the UK currently offer power-assisted exercise machines, such as Everyone Active, which has six Innverva studios, GLL, Active Nation, Serco, Circadian Trust, Your Leisure and Lincs Inspire.

Power-assisted machines enable those who are disabled, with poor mobility or suffering from health conditions to exercise securely.

Rachel Young, Research Fellow at the AWRC, said: “Fears about not being able to access or safely use conventional gym equipment prevents older adults from engaging in venue-based exercise. Power-assisted exercise is a safe and effective solution, this funding will enable older adults to be involved in its development and wider adoption.”

The first six months of the programme will be focused on talking to older adults to understand motivations and obstacles, and collaborating with the public sector to learn more about their challenges regarding engagement with older adults. The research will then delve deeper into ways to motivate that market by developing rewards and gamification tools.

“We will work with these users, particularly those who don’t currently use facilities to identify barriers that are stopping them, and then develop gamification technology and other solutions that will motivate users to begin and maintain regular exercise,” said Ben Heller, associate professor in sports engineering at Sheffield Hallam University.

The first prototypes created as a result of this research will be revealed in November 2022.

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UKRI (UK Research and Innovation) is backing research to investigate the lack of older adults accessing facilities for exercise and the barriers they face.
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