What makes community peer-led exercise groups successful?
The physical benefits of exercise groups for seniors are well-established, but these groups may not survive long term with many factors contributing to their maintenance. Often they are developed “from the ground up” ie. based on the enthusiasm of people who can see an opportunity to improve people’s lives. A key question is: can the groups can be replicated if the essence of how they function is not articulated?
A study conducted by Dr Linda Robertson (Otago Polytechnic), Dr Beatrice Hale (independent researcher), Dr Debra Waters, and Dr Leigh Hale (University of Otago) explored the factors contributing to the success of Age Concern Otago's Steady As You Go (SAYGO) programme.
Data were gathered from focus group interviews with exercise group members, peer leaders and the organisers of the group. It was evident that several factors contributed to their sustainability:
- The physical and wellbeing benefits from group participation
- The social value for participants, providing enjoyment and opportunities for connection
- Meeting the support needs of the groups such as training for the peer leaders, visits from the coordinator, and the availability of trouble-shooting advice
- Harnessing the peer leaders skills and leadership style
Additionally, assumptions that underpin the running of these groups have resulted in a distinctive group culture. These ‘hidden beliefs’ seem to hold the key to the sustainability of the groups.
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