WALKING FRIENDS: Village ambassadors provide a great help in motivating fellow residents to get active by walking regularly either in groups or individually.
WALKING FRIENDS: Village ambassadors provide a great help in motivating fellow residents to get active by walking regularly either in groups or individually. FatCamera

Healthy walking program led by residents

WITH a little help from a friend, researchers have found a simple way to get more Seniors more active through a peer-support walking program.

A selection of retirement village residents, who were already quite active, became volunteer ambassadors in each of the 14 test villages. They were tasked with motivating 116 less active fellow residents across those villages to get more active during a 16-week test period.

The Curtin University project leader, Professor Cecilie Thøgersen-Ntoumani, reported the research participants ultimately increased their daily steps by about 750, reduced their prolonged sitting periods by 7 per cent and increased the quality of motivation by 20 per cent through the work of the trained ambassadors.

"We trained them in different motivational techniques and interpersonal communication styles in order for the less physically active individuals to increase the quality of their motivation," Dr Thøgersen-Ntoumani said.

"The people who became the ambassadors were ones who were already physically active and generally had been quite active throughout their lives, were quite interested in helping others increase their activity and often, people who were quite integrated into their villages."

The ambassadors didn't need any skills to start. Instead, Dr Thøgersen-Ntoumani's team provided them with the necessary motivation, supportive communication and logistical skills to build strong connections among the research participants.

At the start of the trial residents completed three weekly group walks and were encouraged to independently do two extra walks per week. In the final six weeks residents completed self-organised walks which were designed to encourage residents to continue walking independently after the trial had finished.

"A very powerful motivator for the people in their groups was the feeling of social connection within the group and the village overall," Dr Thøgersen-Ntoumani said.

Other motivators was improving health, new friendships, walking with friends and establishing a daily routine.

While not everyone wanted to walk in groups, having the support of the program ambassadors helped to keep the walkers motivated towards better health.

"We also provided them with a pedometer which was extremely popular," she added.

To access the ambassador training manual and the walker's manual, phone Dr Thøgersen-Ntoumani on (08) 9266 5171.


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