They might be drawing their pension but they’re not sitting around – retired people are less sedentary than those who work

Alan Godfrey is a Research Associate at the Institute for Ageing and Health, Newcastle, and for the LiveWell Programme to promote improved health and well-being in later life. They tweet at: @LiveWellUK


A recent study from the Institute of Ageing and Health (IAH) at Newcastle University has suggested that retirement may have a positive effect on time spent being active (walking). To date, little is known about the effects of retirement and age on this form of physical activity as previous research has relied on diaries or estimates of activity (from self-reported time spent inactive) during a person’s daily/weekly schedule.

The current study, led by Dr. Alan Godfrey and recently published in the journal Age and Ageing, studied the ambulatory and sedentary (time spent sitting/lying) behaviours of 98 older adults (48-89 years) from the cohort of healthy adults recruited as part of the ICICLE Gait study headed by Professor Lynn Rochester at IAH. All participants wore a small device on their thigh for a week. The device, called an accelerometer, recorded accelerations of the moving limbs allowing the team to analyse how much time each person was active/inactive over a week.

The research team were particularly interested in the use of modern analysis methods to examine differences in the amount and structure of activity each person was engaged in during the time when they wore the accelerometer. They examined total percentages of time spent walking and sitting, as well as examining how periods of time were varied and distributed (patterns) during the week.

Results show that retired people spent more time walking and less time sedentary than those who were employed, with no difference in patterns between those two groups. However, time spent walking decreased and time spent sedentary increased in older retired age groups – there was a U-shaped curve.

Time spent walking was also considered with respect to public health guidelines which recommend walking – which stipulate approximately 150mins per week in time blocks of 10minutes. Of interest was the fact that only 21% of all participants reached any of the recommended guidelines and that in general the older age groups were the worst performers.

These findings suggest the need for suitable physical activity interventions targeting those over 50. This is a key objective of the LiveWell Programme headed by Prof. John Mathers (IAH), of which Prof Rochester and Dr. Godfrey are collaborators. The Programme aims to develop interventions to aid healthy ageing for those in the ‘retirement window’ that are feasible, effective and cost effective that can be incorporated into everyday life.  The findings from this study therefore directly inform LiveWell.

Read the full paper on the Age and Ageing journal website.

1 thought on “They might be drawing their pension but they’re not sitting around – retired people are less sedentary than those who work

  1. Thanks for the post Alan. It makes for fascinating reading. Here in Ireland the Government published its National Positive Ageing Strategy in April, 2013 (we are still awaiting the publication of an implementation plan). There are a number of good physical activity programmes operating in Ireland (such as the Go For Life programme), However, I think the general public may be surprised at your findings that the “younger old” are more active than people who are working. Targeting the “retirement window” is an interesting proposal and one which needs to be explored further. Thanks again for posting this research.

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