A group walking program trialled across several retirement villages has resulted in residents increasing their daily step count and reducing their prolonged sitting time, a Curtin University study has found.
The study, Residents in Action Trial (RiAT) was undertaken by Curtin University’s Physical Activity and Well-Being Lab at the School of Psychology with support from WA health foundation Healthway.
The 16-week trial, which involved 116 residents aged 60 to 90 from 14 retirement living villages in WA, aimed to increase physical activity among retirement village residents.
During the first 10 weeks, residents participated in three organised walks a week in groups of three to eight people and were encouraged to independently take two additional walks per week.
In the final six weeks, residents took part in five self-organised walks per week.
Project lead Professor Cecilie Thogersen-Ntoumani said the study aimed to help older people remain independent for longer.
“We know that with increasing age, physical activity declines and that has serious implications for older people’s health,” Professor Thogersen-Ntoumani told Australian Ageing Agenda.
Being functional and independent will also enhance an older person’s quality of life, she said.
“It’s important to instigate programs that will help older adults stay independent for longer and enhance their quality of life and a way to do that is to focus on walking,” she said.
The walks started out at around 10-15 minute in length and built up to 30 minutes over the course of the study, she said.
The study found that on average, residents increased their daily steps by 750 day and reduced sitting for periods longer than 30 minutes by 7 per cent.
Residents’ motivation to participate in the group walks also increased by 20 per cent, according to the findings.
Team leaders at the retirement living villages involved in the study used motivational communication strategies to encourage resident participation and promote the benefits of physical activity, Professor Thogersen-Ntoumani said.
“[Motivational strategies] were designed to help people feel a sense of competence, belonging and also a sense of control so they feel they like can take ownership of the walking,” she said.
Professor Thogersen-Ntoumani said the social benefits of walking were key motivators behind resident participation.
“One of the things we found that was extremely important to the program was the social support and the social integration,” she said.
The residents felt more integrated in the village and it improved their socialisation skills, Professor Thogersen-Ntoumani said.
Overall, the study allowed residents to become more independent and encouraged them to continue going on self-organised walks after the study finished, she said.
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