Community-based social support for physical activity

Community-based social support interventions for physical activity combine physical activity opportunities and social support to build, strengthen, and maintain social networks that encourage positive behavior changes. Interventions can also include education, group or individual counseling, or plans tailored to individual needs. Examples of community-based social support interventions include walking groups, setting up an exercise buddy system, and making contracts, goals, or physical activity plans with others (CG-Physical activity, Hanson 2015, Cleland 2012*).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased physical activity

  • Improved physical fitness

  • Improved health outcomes

  • Improved mental health

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that community-based social support interventions for physical activity increase physical activity (CG-Physical activity, Hanson 2015, Schulz 2015*, Bock 2014*, Kassavou 2013) and physical fitness among adults (CG-Physical activity, Hanson 2015). Such interventions have also been shown to provide health benefits such as reductions in indicators of cardiovascular risk, including reduced blood pressure, body mass index (BMI), and total cholesterol (Hanson 2015, Schulz 2015*), and depression symptoms (Hanson 2015).

Social support for physical activity increases physical activity among older adults, especially when interventions include family support (Smith 2017a). Middle-aged women enrolled in a weight loss program are more likely to lose weight when they experience social support from friends and family (Kiernan 2012).

Community-based social support interventions for physical activity with a duration of at least 6 months are more effective than shorter interventions. Interventions that focus on older adults are more effective than those for younger adults (Kassavou 2013). Some studies suggest that such interventions are more effective when designed for both genders (Kassavou 2013), while others suggest that tailoring interventions for women increases effectiveness (Bock 2014*). Interventions led by lay people appear as effective as those led by professionals (Kassavou 2013).

Community-based social support interventions have been shown to increase physical activity among adults in socio-economically disadvantaged neighborhoods (Schulz 2015*, Cleland 2012*). Residents of low income communities with more physically active social networks are more likely to meet recommended physical activity guidelines than residents with less active social networks (Child 2017*). Interventions to increase perceptions of safety may increase participation in walking groups and other community-based social support interventions in socio-economically disadvantaged neighborhoods (Kwarteng 2018*).

Overall, community-based social support interventions may not increase physical activity and physical fitness among adolescents (van Sluijs 2011*) or children (Cleland 2012*). However, adolescents with low levels of perceived social support from family and friends appear more likely to engage in unhealthy weight control behaviors than peers with higher levels of social support (Vander Wal 2012*). Additional evidence is needed to determine effects on adolescents and children.

Community-based social support interventions for physical activity are considered cost effective (Roux 2008*).

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

Community-based social support interventions for physical activity are implemented throughout the country. Examples of community wide interventions include Detroit’s Walk Your Heart to Health (Detroit WYHH), Huntsville’s We Walk Huntsville (WWH-Group walks), Oregon Walks (Oregon-WG), and Community Healthy Activities Model Program For Seniors (CHAMPS). Individuals can also set up their own walking group, buddy system, or workout partnership. 

Implementation Resources

LHC-Rockeymoore 2014 - Rockeymoore M, Moscetti C, Fountain A. Rural Childhood Obesity Prevention Toolkit. Leadership for Healthy Communities (LHC), Center for Global Policy Solutions, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 2014.

America Walks-LC - America Walks. Learning center (LC): Resources for professionals, policy makers, and advocates.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

CG-Physical activity - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Physical activity.

Hanson 2015 - Hanson S, Jones A. Is there evidence that walking groups have health benefits? A systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2015;49(11):710-715.

Schulz 2015* - Schulz AJ, Israel BA, Mentz GB, et al. Effectiveness of a walking group intervention to promote physical activity and cardiovascular health in predominantly non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic urban neighborhoods: Findings from the Walk Your Heart to Health intervention. Health Education & Behavior. 2015;42(3):380-392.

Bock 2014* - Bock C, Jarczok MN, Litaker D. Community-based efforts to promote physical activity: A systematic review of interventions considering mode of delivery, study quality and population subgroups. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 2014;17(3):276-282.

Kassavou 2013 - Kassavou A, Turner A, French DP. Do interventions to promote walking in groups increase physical activity? A meta-analysis. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2013;10(1):18.

Smith 2017a - Smith GL, Banting L, Eime R, O’Sullivan G, van Uffelen JGZ. The association between social support and physical activity in older adults: A systematic review. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2017;14(1):56.

Kiernan 2012 - Kiernan M, Moore SD, Schoffman DE, et al. Social support for healthy behaviors: Scale psychometrics and prediction of weight loss among women in a behavioral program. Obesity. 2012;20(4):756–64

Cleland 2012* - Cleland CL, Tully MA, Kee F, Cupples ME. The effectiveness of physical activity interventions in socio-economically disadvantaged communities: A systematic review. Preventive Medicine. 2012;54(6):371-380.

Child 2017* - Child S, Kaczynski AT, Moore S. Meeting physical activity guidelines: The role of personal networks among residents of low-income communities. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2017;53(3):385-391.

Kwarteng 2018* - Kwarteng JL, Schulz AJ, Mentz GB, et al. Does perceived safety modify the effectiveness of a walking-group intervention designed to promote physical activity? American Journal of Health Promotion. 2018;32(2):423-431.

van Sluijs 2011* - van Sluijs EMF, Kriemler S, McMinn AM. The effect of community and family interventions on young people’s physical activity levels: A review of reviews and updated systematic review. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2011;45(11):914-22.

Vander Wal 2012* - Vander Wal JS. The relationship between body mass index and unhealthy weight control behaviors among adolescents: The role of family and peer social support. Economics & Human Biology. 2012;10(4):395–404.

Roux 2008* - Roux L, Pratt M, Tengs TO, et al. Cost effectiveness of community-based physical activity interventions. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2008;35(6):578-88.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Detroit WYHH - Detroit! Walk Your Heart to Health (WYHH). Improving our health one step at a time: Become part of the walking movement in Detroit.

WWH-Group walks - We Walk Huntsville (WWH), Healthy Huntsville. Join us for a group walk!

Oregon-WG - Oregon Walks. Walking groups (WG).

CHAMPS - Community Healthy Activities Model Program for Seniors (CHAMPS).

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