Analysis and Conclusions
These four programs offer unique approaches for increasing activity among seniors
and making physical activity a normal and routine part of older residents’ everyday
Nashville’s program provides a model for strategic planning
that is based on changing the physical environment and influencing social
norms – in this case, the installation of new sidewalks and a campaign
to promote walking.
Sacramento’s model is based on the social networking theory
and seeks to promote exercise with fun
social groups. After two years, many residents continue to walk with their neighbors
towards better health.26, 27, 28
Wheeling Walks relies on the media and supplemental activities. A
well-developed methodology and outcome evaluation allowed coordinators to document
a 14 percent increase in walking, post-campaign.
Largo’s program seeks to improve the community design of the
city by involving teens and seniors. This intergenerational approach should
not only improve the health of older adults by creating new trails and walkways,
but also build community vitality.
Program to Watch:
Tallahassee, Florida 10-10-10 Bicycle Program
The Tallahassee, Florida 10-10-10 program began in March 2002. The cycling
program is open to all residents, particularly seniors. The voluntary
bike-riding group convenes at 10:00 on Saturday mornings to ride 10 miles
on a local trail at 10 miles per-hour. The program is coordinated and
managed by volunteers, and bike trips are headed by a locally prominent
retired physician. The program receives no state or local funding but
is assisted by a local cycling club. The local newspaper has printed
free ads, and volunteers have distributed brochures around town. The
goal is to provide a social cycling group for individuals who may be
sedentary, out of shape, or uncomfortable biking alone. No evaluation
is currently planned.
back to top
A Common Limitation: Low Participation
One concern is the relatively low number of participants in all four communities.
One possible explanation is that these programs are relatively new, the oldest
being just three years old.
- It may take more time for physical activity to become a normal occurrence
in some communities. Part of Wheeling’s success resulted from a powerful
intervention to change social norms and involve many different institutions
for maximum impact. Largo’s program, where physical activity is part
of a larger community asset-building model and approach, also has the potential
to alter social norms.29 Often social norms,
such as those about tobacco use, take many years to change and require
- Also, it may take time for infrastructure changes
to catch up with programmatic efforts. Nashville and Largo need physical
improvements, such as sidewalks or trails, before people can walk safely
- Another factor could be that changes in participants’ health
status (which is common among older adults) during the program may
temporarily or permanently reduce physical mobility.30 In addition
to ongoing outreach and recruitment, communities must continually improve
walking conditions between homes, services, and retail businesses so
that those who are unable to participate in a major endeavor (e.g.,
10-10-10) may build activity into a daily routine.
- Finally, it is unknown
if programs need to reach a “critical mass” in
participation to generate a broad-based change. Clearly, three of the
oldest programs have begun to change social norms about physical activity,
but work remains. The critical mass question should be considered in
future research and program planning.
Program to Watch:
Healthy Aging Program
With a large population of adults 65 years and older, Pittsburgh is beginning
a process to increase fitness and overall well-being by developing
partnerships between various sectors of the community, an academic
health science center, and a “Center for Healthy Aging,” funded
by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The first phase
of the program, beginning in spring 2002, will focus on a target community,
whose members will be encouraged to participate in activities such
as walking groups, biking clubs, or nutrition and fitness classes.
Participants will be periodically evaluated using quantitative (e.g.
heart rate, blood pressure) and qualitative (e.g. interviews) methods
to assess improvements in fitness and overall program quality. The
next phase begins in spring 2003, when the fitness program will expand
to encourage all residents to bike and walk on local trails.
back to top
Tips for Success
Several lessons emerge from these diverse programs that can help inform and
guide developing and existing initiatives.
- Involve stakeholders in program
planning and implementation. Stakeholders provide critical insight
into the needs, desires, and social norms of a community. By including stakeholders
from the outset, residents are invested in the program and will be more likely
- Base the program in an accessible and
acceptable area to the target audience. In Nashville, walks beginning
in a residential area boosted participation.
- Build evaluation into program
plans. With the exception of Wheeling, communities did not incorporate
broad evaluation into their program models. Evaluation helps planners
modify programs to enhance effectiveness as well as ensure accountability.
However, evaluation presents many challenges (see Program
Evaluation: Measuring the Value of Active Aging for more
- Ensure there is an available and dedicated
staff and enlist volunteers. For several of the programs, staffing limitations
impeded growth, expansion, or maintenance. A dedicated staff is
required to have a consistent emphasis on physical activity. If this
is not possible, volunteers can contribute expertise in planning, coordination,
- Make everything free or low-cost and open to
anyone; also provide incentives to participants. Eliminating even low user
fees can increase participation as many seniors live on a fixed income.
Communities that provide small incentives to participants can entice
people to start and stay with a program.
- Use a multi-generational
approach. While different age groups have divergent needs, appealing
programs can unite generations, strengthen communities, and change
Each of the communities highlighted in this report have
utilized research-based methods to design innovative programs for
increasing physical activity among residents, particularly older adults.
These four case studies demonstrate that communities can play powerful
roles in encouraging physical activity by altering the physical and
social environments of communities. Each is on its way to creating
a community for active living.
Considerations for Program Planners
adults have specialized needs as pedestrians. Planners
should consider increasing time pedestrians have to cross streets,
marking clear crosswalks, or building shady trails with benches.
By taking these considerations into account, program planners can
help older adults feel more confident to walk in their communities.
Older adults report similar barriers to physical
activity, regardless of the geographical area or the community. Each of the programs sought to overcome barriers
to physical activity cited by older adults. The multiple approaches featured
in this brief, or a combination thereof, may be successful for many types
back to top