Department for Health

Project ACE: Active, Connected, Engaged


Principal Investigator: Dr Afroditi Stathi

Funder: Lifelong Health and Wellbeing Initiative (led by Medical Research Council)

Duration: 1 March 2012 - 30 April 2014


Project rationale and aims

Older people are the least active of all age groups. This is concerning given that low levels of physical activity in older people are linked to physical and mental health problems such as:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • some cancers
  • dementia
  • a decline in physical and cognitive function.

Long periods spent in the home can also lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation among people in this age group.

Increased community involvement has the potential to reduce the risk of these health problems. It can help older people to undertake daily living activities, keep physically fit, maintain their social networks and enjoy later life more fully. However, older people often cite a lack of motivation and the absence of friends or family to go out with as barriers to getting out and about more in their communities.

This project is taking a unique approach to this problem. It is testing whether peer volunteering is an effective way of encouraging older people to take part in physical and social activities that are available within their communities.

Project outputs and impact

Project ACE has received positive feedback from both participants and volunteers. As well as improved well-being and confidence, participants showed a marked improvement in functional ability. Poor functional ability – measured in terms of strength, walking speed and balance – can increase hospital admissions, morbidity and mortality. This outcome suggests that simply getting out of the house and making small increases in activity can have important health implications for many older people. Strong volunteer-participant relationships also contributed to the success of the intervention.

The ACE intervention has been adopted by LinkAge, a Bristol-based organisation which is tackling loneliness and isolation in older people across the city. ACE is working together with LinkAge to maintain and further evaluate the programme, making sure that participants receive on-going support. LinkAge has also begun expanding this programme into new areas across the city. Its goal is to reach older people who currently are not active or engaged with their local community, but who have expressed an interest in this type of intervention.

As a low-cost and sustainable intervention, ACE has the potential to be adopted by other community organisations around the country that focus on the health and well-being of older people. Over time this will allow it to successfully transition from a research intervention to a well-developed, evidence-based peer volunteer community programme that can help older people to become more physically and socially active.

Find out more about this project

Name: Dr Afroditi Stathi
Title: Honorary Reader
Department: Dept for Health