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How to get a nation walking: reach, retention, participant characteristics and program implications of Heart Foundation Walking, a nationwide Australian community-based walking program
- Ball, Kylie, Abbott, Gavin, Wilson, Michelle, Chisholm, Melanie, Sahlqvist, Shannon
- The international journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity 2017 v.14 no.1 pp. 161
- adults, chronic diseases, cross-sectional studies, databases, income, overweight, risk factors, social behavior, surveys, walking, Australia
- BACKGROUND: Community-based walking programs represent a low-cost, accessible approach to increasing physical activity among inactive adults. However, recruiting participants from vulnerable and hard-to-reach groups remains a challenge. This study examined the reach, retention, sociodemographic and health characteristics, physical activity levels and motivators of participants in Heart Foundation Walking, a nationwide Australian community-based walking program. METHODS: Descriptive cross-sectional analyses were undertaken with data from 22,416 participants aged 15+ years in the Heart Foundation Walking registration database in December 2015, and from four surveys of participants in 2010 (n = 2400), 2011 (n = 3274), 2012 (n = 4158) and 2015 (n = 1890). RESULTS: Heart Foundation Walking reached participants in every geographic region of Australia, including remote and sparsely populated regions, and engaged sizeable proportions of the following at-risk participants: older than 60 years (>70%); with very low incomes (17–25%); who were overweight or obese (around 60%); and with one or more chronic disease or disease risk factors (57–81%). For all demographic groups, one-year retention rates were at least 75%. Seventy percent of participants met physical activity recommendations. Over 75% reported joining the program for health and fitness reasons while the most cited motivator for continuing was the social aspect (57–73%). CONCLUSIONS: Volunteer-run, group-based walking programs can have substantial reach and retention, in particular among those at risk for physical inactivity. The provision of opportunities for social interaction appears to be a key program element in promoting long-term participation, including among high-risk groups.