The Active for Life (AFL) Initiative is a four-year health initiative aimed at increasing physical activity in older adults. As the U.S. population ages, health care expenditures are predicted to increase 25 percent by 2030. Physical activity can decrease disease burden and enhance quality-of-life in older adults. The aim of the study was to determine whether intervention effects of two theory-based physical-activity programs differed based on characteristics of the sample groups. Understanding who benefits most and least from a given intervention has important implications for targeting interventions to specific communities or individuals, and for spending money most effectively.

Data were gathered from 1,995 participants drawn from nine community-based organizations. Post-program surveys tested whether increases in physical activity differed over time according to baseline characteristics such as demographic factors, health-related variables, initial physical-activity levels, and others. A total of 17 variables were examined. Results showed that eight variables predicted differential outcomes in activity levels; of these, six groups that were initially less active showed large increases in activity. Thus, in general, the groups that were the target of the interventions benefited the most. Also, all groups made progress over time, and no group had a decrease in physical activity.

The two programs, Active Choices (AC) and Active Living Every Day (ALED), are based on different theories and were different in length and means of delivery. When the programs were compared, AC produced larger effects among participants with higher levels of pretest physical-activity social support. ALED produced larger gains among women, Latino/ Hispanic overweight participants, and those with osteoporosis.

The authors concluded that one of the most important findings of this study is that both programs seemed to work well for participants most in need of increasing activity. In addition, the study suggests that more intensive or longer programs may be necessary for people with less education, and those who are more stressed and have more chronic illnesses.