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COMPLETED: The ImPACt study - Improving physical activity of older people in the community

Group of older people doing in exercise class
Club members at Brendoncare joining in group exercise

Principal Investigator: Dr Stephen Lim

Team members: Dr Stephen Lim (NIHR Clinical Lecturer in Geriatric Medicine, Academic Geriatric Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton), Professor Helen Roberts (Professor of Medicine for Older People, Academic Geriatric Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton), Dr Kinda Ibrahim (Senior Research Fellow, Academic Geriatric Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton), Esther Clift (Consultant Practitioner in Frailty, Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, Lymington New Forest Hospital), Samantha Agnew (Head of Clubs Services, The Brendoncare Foundation, Winchester), Pam Holloway (Patient representative)

Start: 1 February 2020 Ended: 31 October 2021

Project Partners:

University of Southampton, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, Brendoncare.

Lay summary

Physical activity is important for older people. It has many benefits including maintaining older people’s ability to perform activities of daily living, be independent, and improve their well-being. However, many older adults living in the community do not engage in regular physical activity.


We found that we could train volunteers to support older people during the COVID-19 pandemic to stay active by performing exercises that help strengthen their muscles. Trained volunteers from Brendoncare led the online group exercises for older people who attended online community clubs during the COVID-19 pandemic. This was a challenging time when social distancing and lockdown rules were in place, which limited opportunities for older people to stay active.

We recruited 19 volunteers, and 15 volunteers completed the training. The volunteers were mainly female (78%), with an average age of 68 years. The exercises were seated exercises and older adults were given exercise bands to increase the exercise intensity. Halfway through the study, lockdown restrictions were lifted, and some groups continued the group exercise in a face-to-face setting. The volunteers led 184 group weekly exercise sessions (127 online and 57 in-person). 30 older adults participated in the group exercises.

We interviewed volunteers, older adults and Brendoncare staff to find out more about what they thought of the online group exercise. The older adults enjoyed the intervention and understood the benefits of exercising. Additionally, they felt that they could exercise in a relaxed way with their peers without fear of being judged. The group exercises helped reduce social isolation and motivated older adults to engage with the exercises.

Volunteers were enthusiastic to support the exercise groups. They appreciated the training and opportunity to lead the group exercises. One volunteer reported that the role gave her a sense of purpose by playing an active role the community club. Brendoncare staff members were a great help to the older adults and supported them with any issues, in particular those who were less familiar with the internet.

At six months, we found that older adults who participated in the group exercise had an improved physical activity level. The time spent in light physical activity per week improved from an average of 1530 minutes per week to 1620 minutes per week. Only two minor incidents happened during the group exercises. Two participants experienced worsening of old injuries while performing the exercises.

Overall, we found that volunteers can be trained to lead online group seated exercises. The exercises were safe and older adults enjoyed the exercises as well as the social interaction in the group setting.

What we did with the new knowledge

We supported Brendoncare in continuing the exercise groups after the study had ended. We presented our study findings to the board of trustees and demonstrated the exercises.

Brendoncare has since employed an activity coordinator to continue to role of training volunteers and supporting volunteer-led exercise groups within Brendoncare.

We trained the activity coordinator and shared our exercise sheets and other study materials  to help Brendoncare develop their own training package. They are now actively recruiting more volunteers to lead group exercises in their community clubs.,improving%20their%20health%20and%20wellbeing.

Where next?

Having explored how we can trained volunteers to engage with healthy community-dwelling older adults to stay active through online group exercises, we collaborated with researchers from the Southampton Biomedical Research Centre and Bournemouth University to further develop this volunteer-led online intervention.

We have been successful in securing research funding (£51,000) from University Hospital Southampton NHS FT to conduct a study to explore a multimodal intervention consisting of exercise, nutrition and behaviour change support, to engage with older people living with frailty who have been discharged from hospital, to stay active and eat well. This research is now underway and due to be reported in the summer of 2024.

What did people say about the work?

Volunteer : “We do it because we want to help others…. we enjoy it. I'm gonna go back to belonging again, I feel that I'm benefiting from the group. Because again, I feel like I belong to that group….. I get so much out of it.”


Club member: ‘We are not self-conscious when they (volunteers) are around. We have a laugh as well.’


Club member: ‘I’ve really enjoyed it because it keeps you in touch with people, especially during this COVID….. I still feel as if I’m part of a group.’


ImPACT volunteers recognised for their work

ImPACt exercise video


IMPACT Exercise with Steve and Esther from NIHR ARC Wessex on Vimeo.

Impact Exercise video using Resistance bands - Dr Sam Meredith watch the video on Vimeo

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