AARP Studies Its Web-Based Exercise Program for Older Adults
The American Association for Retired Persons (AARP) research staff proposed a study in 2001 to examine what motivates mid-life and older adults to increase their physical activity and the barriers they face in doing so.
Project staff planned to interview a sample of AARP members who had chosen not to participate in AARP's Web-based physical activity program, The Fit Lane, and compare them to those who participated. However, all 100 "non-participants" contacted declined to be interviewed, and AARP suspended the study.
Subsequently, AARP staff completed an evaluation of The Fit Lane based entirely on responses of people who registered or participated, and reported their observations to RWJF.
- Those who completed the program generally expressed enthusiasm about The Fit Lane.
- Comments from those who did not complete the program suggest that the Web site had some serious limitations. In particular, the text was too dense.
- Non-participants also suggested that AARP change the order of the sections of The Fit Lane to separate out those serious about enrolling from those who sign on only to browse the site.
- Individuals initially drawn to The Fit Lane Web site appeared to be knowledgeable about the Internet and about exercise. They preferred formats found at other physical activity-related Web sites (e.g., point-and-click options, drop-down menus and emails tailored to their interests) and found the site's content too limited.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) provided a grant of $11,457 from July 2001 to May 2003 to support the project.
AARP launched The Fit Lane Web site in 2001 and mailed postcards to 100,000 members aged 5059 with an interest in health and fitness. Some 2,401 members (2.4 percent) visited the Web site. To view The Fit Lane (www.thefitlane.com), visitors had to register. Of 1,186 people who registered, 61 completed The Fit Lane program (5 percent). Researchers mailed separate surveys to those who completed the program and those who only registered, asking about their experience of the program. The project director stresses that the following observations are based on a small number of responses.
The researchers noted the following observations:
- Those who completed the program generally expressed enthusiasm about The Fit Lane, but comments from those who did not suggest that the Web site had some serious limitations. A number expressed concern that the site was too dense with text, making it difficult to advance through its various sections.
- Those who did not complete the program also suggested that sections of the program should be ordered differently, to separate individuals who are serious about enrolling from those who signed on only to browse the site. If the registration page appeared after the "Ready or Not" section, it would pick up only those willing to enter the program.
- Those initially drawn to The Fit Lane Web site appear to be knowledgeable about the Internet and about exercise. Non-completers complained that The Fit Lane required excessive typing. They preferred formats found at other physical activity-related Web sites, including point-and-click options, drop-down menus and emails tailored to their interests. Non-completers also found the site's content too limited, and would have liked more information about strength training, flexibility, aerobic activity and balance exercises.
The project director noted the following lessons:
- To be effective, Internet-based physical activity programs must tailor messages to two audience characteristics: the user's readiness to receive messages in a Web-based environment, and his or her readiness to adopt new physical activity behaviors. People who went to The Fit Lane and responded to the evaluation survey were savvy about both physical activity and Internet use. (Project Director)
- Placing a registration page at the beginning of a Web site may complicate data collection. Many Fit Lane registrants dropped out after the readiness assessment in the early pages, creating a misleading picture of the program's usefulness. In addition, some prospective users may have decided that the requirement to register just for the privilege of considering the program was too much trouble. (Project Director)
- Be careful when adapting written materials for use on a Web site. The Fit Lane drew its content from a written handbook that had been evaluated as reader friendly. But the Web site developers may not have paid enough attention to modifying the content for Internet use. "You have to be able to really grab people," the project director cautions. (Project Director)
- Before launching a new Web site, test it with a sample of users and make adjustments based on test results. (Project Director)
GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION
Testing Interventions to Promote Physical Activity Among Mid-Life and Older Adults
AARP Foundation (Washington, DC)
Dates: July 2001 to May 2003
Teresa Ann Keenan, Ph.D.
Report prepared by: Antonia Sunderland
Reviewed by: Kelsey Menehan
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: Robin E. Mockenhaupt