Walking Program with Online and (Especially) Telephone Support Motivates African-American Women to Exercise

Increasing sustained participation in walking clubs

From 2000 to 2005, staff at the Black Women's Health Imperative created and implemented an online version of a self-help fitness program for African-American women called Walking for Wellness.

Evaluation: Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, working with project staff at the Black Women's Health Imperative, designed and implemented an independent evaluation to test the effectiveness of the Walking for Wellness program in increasing women's physical activity levels.

They assessed two different levels of the program: Participants in Washington (Site 1) used the online fitness program alone. Participants in Philadelphia (Site 2) used the online program and received telephone counseling to support their progress.

Evaluation data were collected approximately 12 months after the women started the program and compared with data collected when they entered the program.

A third version of the program, in which the online program was combined with regular in-person group meetings, was implemented in Los Angeles (Site 3), but insufficient data were collected from that site to support the evaluation component.

Key Findings

  • Women at both sites reported an increase in brisk walking, but the change at Site 1 might have been a chance finding. The change at Site 2 was much larger.

  • Women at Site 1 reported little change in total activity (the sum of brisk walking, moderate and vigorous physical activity). At Site 2, change in total activity was substantive and statistically significant.

  • The percentage of women meeting the recommendation for more than 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week (as established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]) increased from 4 percent to 22 percent at Site 1 and from 11 percent to 29 percent at Site 2. Accordingly, most women did not meet the recommendation by the end of the study.

Key Conclusions

  • The data seem to provide credible support for the effectiveness of the online program plus telephone counseling for increasing women's physical activity—if they engage in and stay with the program.