The UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)-funded project is being delivered in partnership with Innerva, a Yorkshire-based provider of power-assisted exercise equipment for people who struggle with conventional exercise. The total funding for the project is £1.1 million.
The research team will spend the first six months working with older adults to understand their motivators and barriers to exercise, while also working with private and public sector providers to determine their challenges in engaging with older adults. The project will last 24 months.
The findings of the research will inform the launch of new solutions, the first of which is anticipated to protype in November.
The UK is an ageing society. By 2035, more than half of adults in the UK are expected to be 50 or over and the number of people aged 85+ is projected to double by 2050*. Yet, the number of years people live in poor health is also increasing. Being physically active is one of the most effective ways to improve quality of life in later years, but the UK leisure sector has failed to engage with older adults at scale.
Howard Blackburn, Managing Director of Innerva, said: “We are extremely grateful to UKRI for this funding. It will help us identify why older adults continue to turn their back on the UK’s leisure facilities despite being the people who could benefit most from them. The funding also allows us to work with our research colleagues to bring viable solutions to market to help leisure operators provide the right opportunities for older adults to be active.”
The Innerva range of machines support multi-directional movements of arms, legs and body to increase mobility, reduce pain and improve cardiovascular health. The benefits of using power-assisted equipment extend to improved cognitive health and social wellbeing by remove the physical capability barriers to exercise.
Rachel Young, Research Fellow at Sheffield Hallam’s Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre, 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, and this funding will enable older adults to be involved in its development and wider adoption.”
Dr Ben Heller, Associate Professor in Sports Engineering at Sheffield Hallam University, said: “We will work with these users, particularly those who don’t currently attend leisure centres and gyms 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.”
UKRI is the public body that distributes government funding for research and innovation. The Innerva project is one of 25 to have received Designed for Ageing funding.
George Freeman MP, former Science Minister, said: “The winning projects, backed by £20 million government funding and co-designed with older people, will pioneer the use of the latest technologies, from power-assisted exercise machines to smart navigation systems for the visually impaired, to meet the needs of Britain’s older generations.
“It is our firm ambition to ensure that the success of these projects also encourages businesses and academics across the country to develop ideas and technologies fit for our ageing population, improving our health and quality of life while building on the UK’s reputation as an innovation nation.”