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Mobility and successful ageing

ESRC website

8 December 2010

A study by the New Dynamics of Ageing Programme, a joint initiative by Research Councils UK (RCUK) including BBSRC examined the relationship between successful ageing and mobility patterns. This project used an innovative method for mapping the mobility of the oldest-old members (75 years and over) of an existing 25-year longitudinal study of ageing.

Research into healthy ageing is vital to ensure that people are able to live healthy and fulfilled lives into old age. A decline in mobility is often a factor that adds to the fear of growing older and not being able to look after oneself unaided. This study looks at mobility patterns in 'successfully ageing' adults and the relationship between their health and lifestyle patterns.

The study shows, that older people in reasonable good health with good thought processes were only moderately active but appeared to age successfully. They tended not to travel far from home in their daily life or show a very active lifestyle.

The daily mobility activities of a fairly active group of people showed that 70 per cent of the day is spent sitting or lying, 22 per cent of the day standing and seven per cent of the day walking. The furthest distance travelled from their home is on average four miles, or approximately 23 miles in a single week, spread over five journeys per week. As much as 78 per cent of the day is spent indoors and 14 per cent of the day is spent on outdoor activities.

Evidence suggests that sitting most of the time is an important factor to take into account when looking at patterns of behaviour. The daily life of a person contains behaviour patterns which include a combination of active, non-active or brief activities. These patterns do suggest that changes occur as people age and starting an activity may be harder later in the day. Furthermore, the timing, duration and variability of an activity may be relevant to successful ageing.

Lead researcher, Dr McInnes points out: "New methods are needed to examine how much activity an individual does throughout a day. Monitoring activity levels by using tracking devices will help to assess the mobility ability of older people. Additionally, monitoring health and well-being can help identify individuals who may be at risk." She continues: "If there is a decline in mobility abilities, and access to nutrition, leisure facilities and other activities becomes limited, it leads to greater dependence on others for help. Using these types of healthcare interventions could encourage ageing communities to become more self-contained."

These behaviour patterns will help to identify healthy ageing qualities and prompt early intervention when 'normal' behaviour patterns change. Such interventions could assist with the early diagnoses of conditions like Parkinson's disease.

In conclusion this project helped to establish a reliable mobility profile of the oldest-old members of society by determining where individuals go and how active they are in the process and there is a clear relationship between mobility, health and well-being. It is encouraging to know that old age is not necessarily a time of ill health, a decline in thought processes or becoming a burden. Participants in this study exemplified 'successful ageing'.


Notes to editors

The project,  New metrics for exploring the relationship between mobility and successful ageing was carried out by Dr Lynn McInnes, School of Psychology and Sports Science, University of Sheffield.

This project is part of the  New Dynamics of Ageing Programme which is a seven- year multidisciplinary research initiative with the ultimate aim of improving quality of life of older people. The programme is a unique collaboration between five UK Research Councils -ESRC, EPSRC, BBSRC, MRC and AHRC - and is the largest and most ambitious research programme on ageing ever mounted in the UK.

The sample of participants came from the North East Age Research longitudinal study. Mobility was assessed by three techniques: Activity monitoring was achieved by participants being asked to wear an accelerometer taped to their thigh for a seven-day period; Location monitoring was achieved by participants wearing an i-locate device (supplied by Trackaphone) for the same seven days. Participants also completed self-report time-use diaries pre-testing to achieve baseline measures of activity.

About RCUK

Research Councils UK (RCUK) is the strategic partnership of the UK's seven Research Councils. We invest annually around £3Bn in research. Our focus is on excellence with impact. We nurture the highest quality research, as judged by international peer review, providing the UK with a competitive advantage. Global research requires that we sustain a diversity of funding approaches, fostering international collaborations, and providing access to the best facilities and infrastructure, and locating skilled researchers in stimulating environments. Our research achieves impact - the demonstrable contribution to society and the economy made by knowledge and skilled people. To deliver impact, researchers and businesses need to engage and collaborate with the public, business, government and charitable organisations.


BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £470M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.

External contact

Dr Lynn McInnes, Northumbria University

tel: 01912 273571

Danielle Moore, ESRC Press Office

tel: 01793 413122
out of hours: 07554 333336

Jeanine Woolley, ESRC Press Office

tel: 01793 413119
out of hours: 07554 333336


BBSRC Media Office

tel: 01793 414694