Late Breaking News: Perceived Benefits and Walking Behavior of Participants of the Walk with a Doc Program
Background: The WWAD program is a physician-led walking program. The walk starts with a 5-10 min physician-led health education talk, followed by a self-paced, group walk in a local park. The walk provides a physical activity outlet, health and psychosocial benefits, time to connect with a physician outside of a clinic setting, and an opportunity to learn and ask questions about health-related topics.
Objective: To determine the benefits of the WWAD program for both physicians and walkers and to describe participants’ walking behavior.
This descriptive/analytical cross-sectional study was part of an evaluability assessment of the WWAD program. The study included: 48 online physicians surveys, 7 web-based physician interviews, 244 walker surveys, 3 walker focus groups, a physical activity tracker assessment of 32 participants, and observation of 3 walk chapters. Limetree Research conducted the study in Texas and Ohio between April and August of 2017. Funding for this study was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Participants: Study participants included walkers and physicians. The walker survey population was 76% female and over half of the walkers (60.4%) were 60 years or older. Six of the seven (86%) of the physicians interviewed were male.
Findings: Among the benefits of the WWAD, 96% survey respondents strongly agree/agree that the program helps them lead a healthier lifestyle, 41.5% indicated they have met to walk with other walkers outside of the WWAD program and 62.3% reported that since joining WWAD their physical activity level has increased. Notably, there is a dose-effect of program participation; the longer a respondent participated in WWAD, the more likely they were to report their physical activity had increased, 2 (1, n=202) = 3.78, p < 0.05 and the more likely they were to meet with other walkers outside of the WWAD group to walk, 2 (1, n=202) = 12.95, p < 0.05. Additionally, there was a statistical linear trend between time on the WWAD program (dose-effect) and the amount of time purposely walking in the past 7 days, 2 (1, n=203) = 5.80, p < 0.05. Focus group activities and discussions revealed that the walkers feel that the walks are calm and relaxing, they feel accepted and in a no pressure environment. Walkers are aware of the social and mental benefits the walk provides. Focus group participants reported that after a walk they feel energized, happy, joyful, satisfied, stimulated, welcome, confident, accomplished, and proud. When asked what it means to be a part of the WWAD community, focus group participants reported friendship, fun, motivation to exercise, better relationship with physicians, social support, and improved health. Participants also reported that the program helps improve the patient-physician relationship as they feel more confident asking their physician questions and find doctors are more approachable and less intimidating after having this experience. The wearables study revealed that participants walk a lot. In Ohio, the individual walking averages were 441,467 steps, 317 miles and an accumulated 10,229 active minutes over the 63 days of Fitbit data recorded. In Texas, they were 835,621 steps, 598 miles and accumulated 16,941 active minutes over the 87 days of Fitbit data recorded. Additionally, older participants, 50 years and older, accumulated more steps than younger participants (581,155 vs. 219,278 steps). As for the physician’s interviews and surveys, the main findings indicated that physicians really enjoy the simplicity, relaxing and informal environment of the WWAD program, they like meeting new people and sharing their health promoting knowledge. Most (86%) of the survey respondents reported feeling like they personally connect with the walkers at the walk. Physicians also believe that the program improves patient-physician relationships.
Conclusion: WWAD is an effective health promotion program that is moving participants along the physical activity spectrum, including the elderly. The impact of WWAD spans mental and physical health outcomes, social interactions and support, patient-physician relations and more. Globally, more walks and walk chapters are needed and will effectively break down many of today’s health care barriers.