Community-Wide Campaign to Promote Physical Activity Among Midlife and Older Adults: Lessons Learned from AARP’s Active for Life™ Campaign and a Synopsis of Evidence-Based Interventions

Active for Life™ (AFL), a social marketing campaign supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and planned and implemented by AARP was created to help sedentary midlife and older adults change their physical activity behaviors by engaging in moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Cities selected for local campaign implementation were evaluated using a number of factors including size, percentage of people aged 50 and older, number of AARP members, state obesity and physical inactivity rates, current and potential community partners, variety of local media outlets, and the community’s diversity, environmental assets, and rates of crime and pedestrian deaths. Richmond, Virginia and Madison, Wisconsin were ultimately selected and surveys and interviews were conducted with residents in the target demographic to learn more about their characteristics, motivators, and barriers to increased physical activity. A literature review was also conducted to identify potential strategies that would be effective in changing physical activity levels. This information was used to shape the campaign which consisted of four main components: (1) Marketing and Communications, (2) Partnership Building, (3) Environmental Change, and (4) The Walking Campaign. Guidebooks and resource guides gave midlife and older adults advice on how to increase and maintain physical activity over time, while partnerships with fitness centers and senior centers offered free classes or walking clubs to individuals participating in AFL. The program also sponsored several initiatives to reduce environmental barriers to physical activity like the Pedestrian Flag Project in Madison which helped local residents cross busy intersections safely. Finally, The Walking Campaign encouraged participants to record the amount of walking they did each day and then to set goals to increase that amount. Free step counters were given to participants and a website and toll-free number helped to keep participants engaged. Overall, the percentage of AFL participants in Richmond and Madison who reported getting “more physical activity than a year ago” increased during the course of the campaign, though increases in awareness and behavior decreased over time.

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