The role of walkers' needs and expectations in supporting maintenance of attendance at walking groups: a longitudinal multi-perspective study of walkers and walk group leaders.

21 May 2018

BACKGROUND: There is good evidence that when people's needs and expectations regarding behaviour change are met, they are satisfied with that change, and maintain those changes. Despite this, there is a dearth of research on needs and expectations of walkers when initially attending walking groups and whether and how these needs and expectations have been satisfied after a period of attendance. Equally, there is an absence of research on how people who lead these groups understand walkers' needs and walk leaders' actions to address them. The present study was aimed at addressing both of these gaps in the research. METHODS: Two preliminary thematic analyses were conducted on face-to-face interviews with (a) eight walkers when they joined walking groups, five of whom were interviewed three months later, and (b) eight walk leaders. A multi-perspective analysis building upon these preliminary analyses identified similarities and differences within the themes that emerged from the interviews with walkers and walk leaders. RESULTS: Walkers indicated that their main needs and expectations when joining walking groups were achieving long-term social and health benefits. At the follow up interviews, walkers indicated that satisfaction with meeting similar others within the groups was the main reason for continued attendance. Their main source of dissatisfaction was not feeling integrated in the existing walking groups. Walk leaders often acknowledged the same reasons for walkers joining and maintaining attendance at walking. However, they tended to attribute dissatisfaction and drop out to uncontrollable environmental factors and/or walkers' personalities. Walk leaders reported a lack of efficacy to effectively address walkers' needs. CONCLUSIONS: Interventions to increase retention of walkers should train walk leaders with the skills to help them modify the underlying psychological factors affecting walkers' maintenance at walking groups. This should result in greater retention of walkers in walking groups, thereby allowing walkers to receive the long-term social and health benefits of participation in these groups.