Ageing and Wellbeing

Our research addresses the global challenge of supporting our increasing ageing population by encouraging an active lifestyle to help maintain physical and mental health in older generations.

In 2020, the number of people aged 65 years or older was more than 9% of the world’s population at 727 million. That number is projected to more than double by 2050.

Physiologically, ageing leads to decreased physical capacity and a growing risk of disease, with common conditions of older age including musculoskeletal disorders, cardiovascular impairment and diabetes. There is evidence to suggest that the proportion of our lives spent in good health has remained generally constant but in the face of an increased lifespan, this means that many older adults may expect to spend a substantial number of years in poor health. There is however good news, with research showing a positive impact of physical activity on healthy ageing.

Researchers at the University of Birmingham are designing studies and programmes to encourage older people to be more physically active, in order to maintain or improve physical independence and delay mobility disabilities.

Afroditi Stathi, Professor of Physical Activity and Community Health conducts research aimed at arresting the downward spiral of inactivity: more inactivity leading to less mobility and less mobility leading to more inactivity, with subsequent negative consequences for the older person, their families and society. The REtirement in ACTion (REACT) study, a 42-month randomised controlled trial funded by the UK National Institute for Health Research has provided robust evidence that a relatively low-resource, one-year group exercise and behaviour maintenance intervention delivered in community settings can improve physical functioning of older people with mobility limitations, with benefits that last over at least two years.

Carolyn Greig, Professor of Musculoskeletal Ageing and Health at the University of Birmingham, has a major research interest in maintaining physical independence in older age through improving musculoskeletal health. Age-related loss of muscle mass and function, known as sarcopenia, is a well-known consequence of ageing and contributes to frailty and increased risk of fractures. Using interventions such as exercise training, often combined with nutritional supplementation, Professor Greig measures how muscle responds to these interventions in terms of changes in size and strength as well as  the effect on functional ability, which is the ability to perform normal everyday tasks and activities important for a physically independent life.

Aligned with the United Nations Decade of Healthy Ageing, Professor Greig and colleagues Professor Janice Thompson and Dr Victoria Goodyear recently launched a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) ‘Healthy Ageing: concepts, interventions and preparing for the future’. This course covers healthy ageing with a strong global focus on maintaining optimal functional ability in older age, which, in the words of the World Health Organisation, means ‘doing the things you have reason to value’.

“For many years, the research, policy and practice communities focussed maybe too much on the health importance of physical activity when promoting exercise. Well-being in later life is more than simply maintaining health. People want to maintain health and functional ability to be able to do the things they love doing.”

Professor Afroditi Stathi

Professor Afroditi Stathi

Professor of Physical Activity and Community Health

Discover more

Our Researchers

  • Media experts

    The University of Birmingham is one of the UK's leading universities for research and can offer expertise to the media on many different subjects.