Participants and researchers celebrate the success of the Retirement in Action study

Researchers, commissioners, local authority representatives and more than 50 participants and family members from across Bristol and Bath, joined Bristol Health Partners on 23 June to celebrate the landmark Retirement in Action (REACT) study and discuss

Researchers, commissioners, local authority representatives and more than 50 participants and family members from across Bristol and Bath, joined Bristol Health Partners on 23 June to celebrate the landmark Retirement in Action (REACT) study and discuss how to implement its findings more widely.

The trial – believed to be the largest of its kind – looked at the effectiveness of a community-based group exercise and behavioural maintenance programme designed for people aged 65 and over with mobility limitations.

Results showed that REACT prevents physical decline and is cost-effective to run. Findings were published in The Lancet Public Health in March 2022.

In an inspiring and, at times, emotional morning session at Bristol’s Watershed, REACT Chief Investigator and Bristol Health Partners Active Lives Health Integration Team (HIT) collaborator, Professor Afroditi Stathi, and REACT Programme Manager, Dr Janet Withall, presented the study’s key findings.

They showed a short film of participants from mobility sessions at Odd Down in Bath, which was followed by a panel discussion with a research team member, a fitness instructor who led the Odd Down sessions, and one of the programme participants.

After lunch, commissioners and representatives from local authorities, acute care and hospital teams, and leisure and voluntary organisations joined researchers to discuss how this clinically significant and cost-effective programme can be rolled out more widely to ensure more people can benefit from it.

Afroditi said:

“It was wonderful to see so many familiar faces from our REACT study here today. This is the largest study of its kind that we know of, with 777 people taking part. It was emotional seeing our participants talking so passionately about the programme and highlighting the impact it had on their mobility and quality of life”

“Our results have shown that the REACT programme not only works, but that it also provides value for money. Because the cost of running the programme is offset by the savings it achieves in terms of health and social care costs, we hope will help convince commissioners to roll it out regionally, and ultimately at a national level as well.”

Karen Lloyd, Active Lives HIT Director, added:

“The afternoon session brought a lot of like-minded partners together to hear how successful the REACT study has been. The energy and enthusiasm in the room was palpable. The evidence demonstrates the programme works, our challenge now is to translate research into practise in a sustainable and timely way. An ultimate test of interdisciplinary cooperation. It feels like the real challenge lies ahead.’’

“Exercise can be fun if you do it with other people”

Participants who came along to the morning session said:

“We always had a social chat, then a five-minute warming up session. The exercises themselves were quite strenuous as you felt tired by the end of the session, then there was cooling down at the end. The message I got from it was that if you sequence the thing in the right way, everybody contributes and everybody feels happy about it.”

“I was in the group that was at St Monica’s in Bristol and we decided to keep going. We continued the classes for another two to three years. We paid £1 each for our coffee and tea. The social side was really what gave us the impulse to keep going but certainly we benefited from the exercises.”

“I certainly felt a lot more confident in myself personally. I thoroughly enjoyed it – thank you very, very much.”

One participant even made a comparison with BBC Morning Live’s popular ‘Strictly Fitness’ segment:

“It’s great fun and they have people coming in from behind the cameras and producers joining in and making it very clear that exercise can be fun if you do it with other people.”

Read the papers in The Lancet Public Health

Effect of a physical activity and behaviour maintenance programme on functional mobility decline in older adults: the REACT (Retirement in Action) randomised controlled trial

Cost-effectiveness of a physical activity and behaviour maintenance programme on functional mobility decline in older adults: an economic evaluation of the REACT (Retirement in Action) trial