New YMCA Program Uses Coaching and Relationship Building to Promote Healthy Behaviors in Sedentary Adults

Studying the influence of social networks on sustainable behavior change

From 2002 to early 2004, the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) of Santa Clara Valley joined with YMCAs in four other western cities (Seattle; Portland, Ore.; San Francisco; and Los Angeles) in conducting an exploratory study of Total Health Plus+, a comprehensive nutrition and exercise program that helps sedentary adults adopt and sustain healthier lifestyles through a combination of individual coaching, relationship building and environmental change.

Key Results
The YMCA of Santa Clara Valley and the project evaluator, the Stanford Center for Research in Disease Prevention, which operated under a subcontract, examined outcomes related to physical activity, nutrition and social connection in a group of 500 Total Health Plus+ participants and compared them to a group of 1,000 adults who participated only in a basic YMCA program. Comparing results for the two groups, the project team found that:

  • At the start of the program, Total Health Plus+ participants were significantly more likely than their basic counterparts to be obese, lead a sedentary life and have less healthy eating habits; they also reported a greater readiness to change to a healthier lifestyle.
  • After six months, Total Health Plus+ participants' perceptions of the barriers to lifestyle change, such as lack of willpower or time, were greatly reduced compared to their baseline levels. There was no significant change in the perceptions of barriers to change among participants in the basic Y program.
  • At both six and 12 months, the percentages of Total Health Plus+ participants who engaged in vigorous exercise, strength training, abdominal exercises and stretching increased significantly, whereas the basic group increased significantly in only one physical activity area.
  • In addition to improvements in physical activity and nutrition, at the one-year mark Total Health Plus+ participants were significantly more likely than their basic counterparts to report improvements in self-esteem, stress, mood management, quality of sleep and relationships to others.