Research Study Abstract

Peer-led walking programme to increase physical activity in inactive 60- to 70-year-olds: Walk with Me pilot RCT

  • Published on May 20, 2019

Levels of physical activity decline with age. Some of the most disadvantaged individuals in society, such as those with a lower rather than a higher socioeconomic position, are also the most inactive. Peer-led physical activity interventions may offer a model to increase physical activity in these older adults and thus help reduce associated health inequalities. This study aims to develop and test the feasibility of a peer-led, multicomponent physical activity intervention in socioeconomically disadvantaged community-dwelling older adults.

The study aimed to develop a peer-led intervention through a rapid review of previous peer-led interventions and interviews with members of the target population. A proposed protocol to evaluate its effectiveness was tested in a pilot randomised controlled trial (RCT).

A rapid review of the literature and the pilot study informed the intervention design; a pilot RCT included a process evaluation of intervention delivery.

Socioeconomically disadvantaged communities in the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust and the Northern Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland.

Fifty adults aged 60–70 years, with low levels of physical activity, living in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities, recruited though community organisations and general practices.

‘Walk with Me’ is a 12-week peer-led walking intervention based on social cognitive theory. Participants met weekly with peer mentors. During the initial period (weeks 1–4), each intervention group participant wore a pedometer and set weekly step goals with their mentor’s support. During weeks 5–8 participants and mentors met regularly to walk and discuss step goals and barriers to increasing physical activity. In the final phase (weeks 9–12), participants and mentors continued to set step goals and planned activities to maintain their activity levels beyond the intervention period. The control group received only an information booklet on active ageing.

Main outcome measures
Rates of recruitment, retention of participants and completeness of the primary outcome [moderate- and vigorous-intensity physical activity measured using an ActiGraph GT3X+ accelerometer (ActiGraph, LLC, Pensacola, FL, USA) at baseline, 12 weeks (post intervention) and 6 months]; acceptability assessed through interviews with participants and mentors.

The study planned to recruit 60 participants. In fact, 50 eligible individuals participated, of whom 66% (33/50) were female and 80% (40/50) were recruited from general practices. At 6 months, 86% (43/50) attended for review, 93% (40/43) of whom returned valid accelerometer data. Intervention fidelity was assessed by using weekly step diaries, which were completed by both mentors and participants for all 12 weeks, and checklists for the level of delivery of intervention components, which was high for the first 3 weeks (range 49–83%). However, the rate of return of checklists by both mentors and participants diminished thereafter. Outcome data indicate that a sample size of 214 is required for a definitive trial.

The sample was predominantly female and somewhat active.

The ‘Walk with Me’ intervention is acceptable to a socioeconomically disadvantaged community of older adults and a definitive RCT to evaluate its effectiveness is feasible. Some modifications are required to ensure fidelity of intervention delivery is optimised. Future research needs to identify methods to recruit males and less active older adults into physical activity interventions.


  • Mark A Tully 1,2,3,4
  • Conor Cunningham 1,2
  • Ashlene Wright 1,2
  • Ilona McMullan 2,4
  • Julie Doherty 5
  • Debbie Collins 6
  • Catrine Tudor-Locke 7
  • Joanne Morgan 2,8
  • Glenn Phair 9
  • Bob Laventure 10
  • Ellen EA Simpson 5
  • Suzanne M McDonough 2,4,11
  • Evie Gardner 9
  • Frank Kee 1,2
  • Marie H Murphy 12
  • Ashley Agus 9
  • Ruth F Hunter 1,2
  • Wendy Hardeman 13
  • Margaret E Cupples 1,2


  • 1

    Centre for Public Health, School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, UK

  • 2

    UK Clinical Research Collaboration, Centre of Excellence for Public Health Northern Ireland, Belfast, UK

  • 3

    Institute of Mental Health Sciences, School of Health Sciences, Ulster University, Newtownabbey, UK

  • 4

    Centre for Health and Rehabilitation Technologies, Institute of Nursing and Health, School of Health Sciences, Ulster University, Newtownabbey, UK

  • 5

    Psychology Research Institute, Ulster University, Coleraine, UK

  • 6

    Department of General Practice, School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, UK

  • 7

    Department of Kinesiology, School of Public Health and Health Sciences, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA, USA

  • 8

    Community Development and Health Network, Newry, UK

  • 9

    Northern Ireland Clinical Trials Unit, The Royal Hospitals, Belfast, UK

  • 10

    Later Life Training Ltd, Amble, UK

  • 11

    School of Physiotherapy, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

  • 12

    Centre for Physical Activity and Health Research, Ulster University, Newtownabbey, UK

  • 13

    Health Promotion Research Group, School of Health Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK


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