Peer Volunteers Improve Long-Term Maintenance of Physical Activity With Older Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial

in Journal of Physical Activity and Health
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Background:

Using peer volunteers as delivery agents may improve translation of evidence-based physical activity promotion programs for older adults. This study examined whether tailored support from older peer volunteers could improve initiation and long-term maintenance of physical activity behavior.

Methods:

Participants were randomized to 2 16-week, group-based programs: (1) peer-delivered, theory-based support for physical activity behavior change; or (2) an intervention typically available in community settings (basic education, gym membership, and pedometer for self-monitoring), attention-matched with health education. Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) was assessed via daily self-report logs at baseline, at the end of the intervention (16 weeks), and at follow-up (18 months), with accelerometry validation (RT3) in a random subsample.

Results:

Seven peer volunteers and 81 sedentary adults were recruited. Retention at the end of the trial was 85% and follow-up at 18 months was 61%. Using intent-to-treat analyses, at 16 weeks, both groups had similar significant improvements in MVPA. At 18 months, the group supplemented with peer support had significantly more MVPA.

Conclusions:

Trained peer volunteers may enhance long-term maintenance of physical activity gains from a community-based intervention. This approach has great potential to be adapted and delivered inexpensively in community settings.

Buman is with the Exercise and Wellness Program, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ. Giacobbi is with the Health Promotion Sciences Division, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ. Dzierzewski, McCrae, and Marsiske are with the Dept of Clinical and Health Psychology, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL. Aiken Morgan is with the Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC. Roberts is with the Dept of Adult and Elderly Nursing, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL.