‘You started something … then I continued by myself’: a qualitative study of physical activity maintenance
It is well known that physical activity is good for both our physical and mental health. There are many different conditions that physical activity can help prevent or improve: stroke, cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and depression, to name a few.
However, sometimes our busy schedules and sedentary lifestyles can prevent us from being as active as we should be.
Our research, PACE-UP, aimed to increase people’s physical activity by giving them a pedometer to measure their steps. We recruited just over 1000 participants aged 45-75 from GP surgeries in South London and measured their physical activity at the beginning of the study. Participants were then randomly put into one of three groups. One group received the pedometer and a 12-week walking programme by the post, the second received the same resources and also attended 3 nurse sessions to discuss how to increase their walking, and the third were told to continue with their usual activity. We measured activity again after the 12-week programme, at 12 months and 3 years later.
We found some very interesting results. At 12 months participants who had received the pedometer were doing more walking than those who just continued with their normal activity. We found no difference in the activity between those receiving the resources by post and those having the extra nurse appointments. The full paper is available here. When we followed participants up 3 years later on we were very excited to find that the majority of participants had maintained their increased physical activity levels.
This got us thinking about what do people see as the barriers and facilitators to physical activity maintenance? To explore this in more detail we interviewed 60 PACE-UP participants. The main barrier mentioned was time this included being ‘too busy’, ‘family responsibilities’ (looking after children/caring for relatives) and ‘work commitments’. Some participants mentioned strategies to incorporate more physical activity into their daily routine such as taking the stairs rather than the escalator and getting off the bus a stop early. Other barriers and facilitators included; the weather, social support (having someone to exercise with), age, self-motivation and health. For some they saw having a certain health condition as a reason not to exercise, whereas others felt physical activity actually helped their health condition.
It is important that we understand the barriers and facilitators to physical activity maintenance because physical activity needs to be practised on an ongoing basis to result in sustained health benefits.
What next? We are now trying to move these exciting findings from research into routine care. We are developing the resources so they can be accessed via a website and mobile phone app allowing people to follow the 12-week walking programme digitally. We are also trialling the best way to deliver these resources through primary care. We are hoping this work will help make the PACE-UP walking programme available through the NHS so that everyone can benefit from this programme.
For more information on the PACE-UP trial please visit: www.paceup.sgul.ac.uk
Read the full article at ‘You started something … then I continued by myself’: a qualitative study of physical activity maintenance’ in full for free until August 31st.