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Prenatal Care

Community Groups Motivate Young Mothers To Exercise


Women who were given only written information on how to increase physical activity were no more likely to increase their exercise levels than women who did not receive the information, reports Yvette D. Miller of the University of Queensland, Australia. However, women who received the information and attended discussion groups to develop personalized exercise programs were more likely to achieve target exercise levels, Miller said.

"A lack of confidence in overcoming... constraints and a distinct lack of partner support emerged as issues affecting physical activity participation, and formed the basis for the development of intervention strategies" in the discussion groups, Miller said.

Organizing "mother-friendly" aerobics classes with available child care and encouraging local organizations to schedule activities at times convenient for mothers were among the strategies devised in the groups.

"Having children in the household represents a life stage when women understandably find it difficult to engage in leisure-time physical activity," said Miller.

Exercise interventions that involve an entire community are usually more successful than interventions that provide individual guidance, Miller said. With this in mind, she and her colleagues explored the possibility that printed materials, in addition to local discussion groups to help women develop their own activity strategies, might be more successful than printed materials alone.

A total of 554 mothers, whose average age was 33, with at least one child enrolled in child care approximately 100 miles from Sydney were recruited for the study; each woman provided basic personal information in a survey that measured activity level, Miller explained.

Researchers then divided the women into three groups. The first served as a control group and received neither advice nor support; the second group received only booklets that described the benefits of activity and suggestions for ways to overcome barriers to exercise commonly faced by young mothers; and the third group received the booklets plus the opportunity to participate in a discussion group at their child care center, according to Miller.

At the meetings, they could identify and resolve their personal barriers and suggest community-wide changes that would make it easier for mothers to be physically active, Miller said.

At the beginning of the study, fewer than half of the women performed two and a half hours of moderate activity per week, a guideline designated for adequate physical activity, the study found. At eight weeks and five months, the researchers checked the women’s activity levels again and found that the women who received only booklets were no more likely than the control group to be more physically active.

In contrast, the booklet plus discussion group intervention "resulted in significant short-term...increases in the proportion of mothers who were categorized as sufficiently active for health benefits," said Miller, adding that 59.9 percent met their target at the eight-week mark.However, the improvement was not sustained at the five-month mark, she noted.

Miller reports that the strategies developed in the discussion groups had at least two measurable impacts on the women who became more active: greater confidence that they could meet their activity target and a greater sense that their partner supported their efforts.

The researchers also believe that involving the women in the planning and implementation "is likely to have fostered feelings of empowerment and community ownership, as well as [increasing] the relevance of strategies."


© 2002 Health Resources Publishing