Social connectedness and physical activity in ageing. A person and place based approach to identifying, co-designing and evaluating solutions.

Physical activity (PA) and social connectedness are major contributors to healthy ageing and are identified as key priorities by older people, carers, clinicians and UK government.

Loneliness and lack of social connections among older adults have been identified as major risk factors for chronic illness, poor mental health outcomes and mortality. Despite the well-known health benefits of keeping active, PA declines with age, and people over 60 are the most inactive of any age group. The COVID-19 pandemic, with its associated social distancing and shielding, has led to reduced PA, cognitive decline and increased loneliness.

Positive social connections and being active are mutually reinforcing and can synergistically prevent the onset of declining health as we age. People living in deprived communities have the greatest needs but are often excluded from support through lack of awareness, lower health literacy, financial limitations and reduced local services. Our approach acknowledges the complexity of healthy ageing, and aims to support those within the community systems to identify where interventions could be implemented to achieve sustained positive change. 

The overarching research aims are to:

  1. Develop effective sustainable partnerships with older adults and other stakeholders including social enterprises, practitioners, carers, community organisations and commissioners and generate, through these partnerships, novel transdisciplinary understanding of critical behavioural, organisational, environmental and cultural determinants of PA and social connectedness in older adults.
  2. Synthesise existing evidence, experiences and perspectives of older adults and others in understanding priorities for healthy, connected and active ageing.
  3. Bring together older adults and other stakeholders to co-design innovations for healthier populations in more active, connected communities.

This core funded project involves working with colleagues in Relationships, Inequalities and Places to complete four overlapping sub-studies which will lay the foundation for intervention development work undertaken towards the end of 2024-25.

  1. Secondary analyses of cohort data
  2. Quantitative survey and social network data collection
  3. Qualitative data collection
  4. Systems mapping including an organisational survey and workshops

The primary data collection will take place in two local authorities - South Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire - and we are collaborating with two organisations in those areas who support older adults - ROAR and Seniors Together - to develop and deliver this research.

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