Researchers examined the effectiveness of a peer-coached exercise club for older adults. The club, which was founded in 2010 by an older adult, meets every weekday morning to exercise for an hour, and about half the attendees stay for coffee afterwards. A handful of peer-coaches, who have experience as a coach or trainer, trade off leading the sessions. Of the 63 club members, 55 participated in the study. Study participants responded to questions related to their health and well-being, as well as their motivation to attend the club. Participants also completed a walking test in which they were asked to walk as far as possible in six minutes. This test was conducted 13 times over a period of 18 months.
The most commonly reported motivations for joining the club included becoming more physically fit, socializing, and exercising outside. Participants showed significant improvements in sleep quality, quality of life, and physical fitness, and women reported losing a significant amount of weight. On average, distance covered in the six-minute walk test improved by about 20 meters per year; this effect was greater for newer members than for long-time members. Interestingly, staying for coffee after the exercise session was related to greater improvements in the walking test.
This is one of the few exercise programs designed and led by older adults, and at a cost of 1 euro per week, there are very few barriers to entry. The club also seems relatively sustainable, as it had been in operation for six years by the end of the study, with approximately 30 members attending each session. The self-reports and objective improvements in walking ability are promising results, and may be particularly beneficial for sedentary older adults.
In another study, more than 700 sedentary older adults participated in a physical activity intervention held at multiple community centers, and were able to maintain functional improvements for up to a year after the intervention. Programs such as this may benefit from a peer-coaching component.
van de Vijver, PL, Wielens, H, Slaets, JPJ, and van Bodegom, D. Vitality club: a proof-of-principle of peer coaching for daily physical activity by older adults. Translational behavioral medicine (2018); 8(2): 204-211.