Walking Together for Health
Program Description: Engaging the Community
Since 2000, Sacramento’s walking program, “Neighborhood Walk,” has
provided a social
support network to increase physical activity among older adults.
The City of Sacramento Parks and Recreation Department organized ten walking
groups based in diverse geographic neighborhoods. City staff collaborated
with community leaders to tell residents about the groups. Print materials
about the walking groups included ads in regional newspapers, articles in
community newsletters, and fliers placed in local businesses and in every
neighborhood mailbox. Though time- and resource-intensive, the door-to-door
method was an effective way to recruit participants.
With residents’ support, city staff organized the walking groups. Once
the groups were established, city staff provided minimal oversight. The groups
are self-paced, self-motivated, and self-directed. At the beginning of the
program, staff helped groups establish a route with a neutral meeting place,
such as a park or community center.17 Now groups determine their own routes
and meeting times.
The city provided small incentives, including “Neighborhood Walk” tee-shirts
and sun visors to motivate participants. To recruit more members, groups distributed
fliers as they walked. City staff encouraged groups to meet socially outside
of the walking groups to strengthen group bonds.
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Participation: Keeping Participants Motivated
Of the ten original groups, five were still active in 2002. City staff found
motivational activities – a lecture series, which meets every six weeks
on various health and aging issues, and a newsletter profiling older walkers – key
to sustaining groups. Quarterly social functions, such as barbeques, are also
held. Select walking groups have been featured on television ads, which provide
positive feedback for participants and establish new community norms.
According to group records, approximately 25 percent of the initial 280
participants continue to walk in the five groups, on their own, or with
a neighbor. Reasons for the dissolution of groups varied; for example,
one lost momentum because of winter weather. Typically, about 50 percent
of individuals drop out of an exercise program in the first 3-6 months.18 The Sacramento program’s
25 percent retention rate after two years is considered a modest success, especially
given the reliance on one staff member, part-time employees, and unpaid interns.
Partners: Multi-Sector Involvement
- City government and policymakers
- Community and service groups, such
as neighborhood associations
- Local businesses
- Colleges and Universities
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The process depended on not telling people what to do but asking them
what and how.
– Lisa Cirill, former project coordinator.
The Bottom Line: Funding
For the first two years, the program and staff were partially funded by the
state through its preventive services block grant from the federal Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Currently, the program is funded
under a three-year grant from the private California Wellness Foundation.
The City of Sacramento has absorbed residual expenses and uses unpaid interns
as recreation aides to minimize cost. The city plans to continue support for
the walking groups, regardless of future funding from outside sources.
Future Plans: Increasing Fitness Across Generations
City staff seeks to build inter-generational groups, an idea that originated
in the walking groups. Although the groups were originally designed for those
50 years and older, a range of walkers joined the groups. Creating inter-generational
groups would have several benefits:
- Promoting physical activity across the lifespan;
- Helping older adults
feel less threatened by youth in the neighborhood, a possible barrier
- Expanding social networks through interaction between
neighbors of different ages;
- Reducing social isolation felt by some residents; and
- Helping make
physical activity a social norm.
Evaluation: Limited Qualitative
Like Nashville, Sacramento has not conducted an outcome evaluation.
City staff use anecdotal information to illustrate program achievements.
Biggest Success: Community Involvement
After two years, one in four participants remain physically and socially active
by taking part in the
Biggest Obstacle: Limited Resources
City staff reports that limited time and resources impede program growth; they
cannot provide ongoing guidance to all groups. A recent study showed that community-wide
programs must be carefully planned and coordinated, with well-trained staff
and sufficient resources, if they are to have an impact.19
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