The EU recognises health-enhancing physical activity for older adults as one of the key policies of Erasmus+ and of the Silver Economy Strategy. The messaging of the importance of maintaining healthy lifestyles in later life is widespread, but it is not translating into action itself. Insufficient older adults are exercising to the WHO recommendations for longer active and independent living. Older people can also become socially excluded and more isolated.
The AAC main objective is to create communities for healthy and active older people in 18 fitness centres from 6 European countries, and in different community settings.
In detail the AAC aims to involve ~500 older adults and to have an adherence of 75% at the end of the proposed six months intervention. Family members who are already fitness users will encourage their parents and grandparents to join community-based activities leading into a framework of healthy lifestyles for their long-term participation.
The European fitness sector is one of the key actors capable of raising awareness among inactive older people and is already recognised as the largest participation sport at the European level. A majority of its 64,000 fitness clubs are community based.
The AAC programme will be set-up by the University of Southern Denmark experts and will address behavioural, mental, and socioeconomic barriers to physical activity in later life by proposing a mix of methodologies from already successful projects together with the new piloting based on an innovative intergenerational approach.
There will be a good practice guide (based on the programme impact evaluation) that can be used by other fitness and recreational sport centres around Europe to replicate the methodology. Two types of dissemination events will be organised to exploit the findings with a main conference in Brussels and national seminars involving fitness and recreational sporting bodies in the 6 participating countries.
What is The Programme?
The Active Ageing Communities (AAC) programme is a community-based intervention for
older adults designed for fitness and recreational sport environments with the main aim of
creating communities for active and healthy ageing. The programme is based on international
recommendations and scientific evidence.
The programme itself is a 24-weeks complex intervention designed with four modules.
- Educational awareness module
Engaging in healthy life behaviours requires the awareness of modifiable and non-modifiable
risk factors. This module is designed as three structured presentations dedicated to the
participants and their family and delivered by the fitness staff. The format is not “traditional
lecturing” and passive listening, but rather dynamic interaction with the audience. Key
information is provided in a simple way with frequent examples and questions to the
participants asking to share their experience. We wish to create a link between the knowledge
that the participants should acquire with their own personal life and start reflecting on what
is potentially modifiable. The three themes proposed are 1) Biological processes of ageing.
What happens to our body when we get older? 2) Physical activity, exercise, and sedentary
behaviour 3) Nutrition and foods in ageing.
Social inclusion and connectiveness module
Sense of belonging and reduced feelings of loneliness among older adults have been shown
to have a positive impact on quality of life and health outcomes. Moreover, including
meaningful activities in programmes can increase participants motivation and adherence to
the programme. The main aim of this module is to increase social inclusion and
“connectiveness” among the participants by two main components: 1) Peer-led social
activities and 2) Intergenerational events.
The health benefits of exercise are well established. The exercise module of the AAC
programme builds on WHO’s newly updated physical activity guidelines for older adults and
most up to date scientific evidence. The programme is designed with biweekly frequency (2
non-consecutive days), 1 hour per session, for 24 weeks in total. The exercise programme is
divided into three blocks. The first block of the intervention is used as familiarisation, where
learning exercise techniques and understanding of training intensity are included. The second
block has the main goal to increase physiological capacity in terms of maximal muscle strength
and aerobic capacity. Functional training (i.e. physical function and balance) will be
progressively added. The third and last block has the main goal to increase muscle power,
aerobic capacity, functional training (i.e. physical function and balance) and motor skills (e.g.
complex reaction time).
Behavioural change module
This module aims to magnify the effect of the module 1-3 by establishing healthy habits
beyond the “borders” of the fitness facility and extending the AAC programme into the
community space. The role of the fitness instructor is to facilitate this process and create the
condition for self-empowerment and self-management. The main aim of this module is to
increase motivation to promote and maintain physical activity and optimize retention to the
programme. The module is designed as 10 Instructor-led behaviour change meetings carried
out in parallel with the 24-weeks AAC exercise programme. The meetings will include
discussions to share “successful solutions” and identifying barriers and facilitators to increase
and maintain physical activity. The behaviour change meetings will use motivational
interviewing techniques and other techniques based on social-behavioural models such as
the Transtheoretical Model developed by Prochaska and DiClemente (also known as Stages
of Change Model), goal setting, self-monitoring and habits formation to support behaviour
3 Ireland Active member facilities will deliver the programme to older adults in their local communities:
If you are located close to one of these centres and wish to find out more, please visit their website and make contact.
To read more about the Active Ageing Community programme click here.