A ground breaking new study from the Frontiers in Public Health Journal shows that with the right sweeteners, suburban mums will get off the couch and into the wild.
The Griffith University Report, published last Thursday, analysed the effectiveness of Coastrek, a 30 to 60km team trekking challenge. The event, which takes women on a 12-week training journey before letting them loose on the wild coastal trails of Sydney, Melbourne and the Sunshine Coast, is a model for inspiring busy women to get moving outdoors.
And it could be expanded and adapted for large scale public health initiatives. Experts say it could even become a way to reduce obesity, heart disease, depression and diabetes.
The Report assessed the key factors associated with the event, namely communications, motivations, experiences, satisfaction, and intentions. Professor, Ralf Buckley, International Chair in Ecotourism Research, and Dr Paula Brough, Professor of Applied Psychology, found that when barriers are removed and incentives are added, women who don’t normally exercise can be enticed to get active.
The Coastrek program provides participants with incentives, personal rewards, peer support, and social justification to include outdoor activities in nature as part of their regular schedule, displacing a part of their previously higher priorities.
Researcher and CEO of Wild Women On Top, Di Westaway, said “The main barriers to getting women outdoors are guilt, time, a negative association with exercise and family commitments. Coastrek motivates women to go walking with their friends because it makes them feel exhilarated. Not only to they get fitter and stronger, but they also get that warm glow back,” she said.
This combination of factors creates multiple mechanisms to sign up; multiple social incentives to continue; multiple disincentives to drop out; and multiple individual rewards, including improved physical and mental health, social opportunities and social capital, and enhanced self-esteem.
Dr Buckley said, “Coastrek gets several thousand suburban mums into 3-month fitness programs every year because its founder, Di Westaway, really understands the psychology of suburban mums and she knows how remove all the obstacles and provide all the incentives, both at the same time.”
Teams of four (at least 50 per cent female) walk the stunning beaches, bays and clifftops to get fit while fundraising for The Fred Hollows Foundation.
Dr Robert Grenfell, Public Health specialist and former Health Director of the Heart Foundation, says “Adventurous physical activities like the Coastrek challenge can create sustained behavioural change and lift people’s mood because they are doing an activity that’s intrinsically good for them. And it’s fun so they want more of it.”
“Motivation, or lack of it, stops us from exercising. An effective way of building and sustaining motivation to exercise is to set a goal and do it with a group … Walking in nature appears to be better for you than exercising in a gym. When you are outside you have the wind, sunshine, trees, birds and all those things that make you feel good inside. This is great for your mental wellbeing. Also, the irregular pathways assist in improving reflexes and muscle responses. Add some friends and you have an all-round great exercise experience. Walking daily for over 30 minutes outside in a park will improve your physical and mental health. It only costs your time.”
The report suggested that the Coastrek model, which motivates people to change their lives, could be scaled up, expanded internationally, extended into different outdoor activities, and adopted broadly in public health policy.