Public health policy should adopt a successful outdoor fitness model that gets urban mums off the couch and into nature, a new Griffith University study has found.
The ground-breaking study, published in Frontiers in Public Health, showed that the Coastrek fitness program is so popular and changes women’s lifestyles that it should be expanded and emulated elsewhere.
Coastrek is a 30-60km team trekking challenge that takes women on a 12-week training journey before letting them loose on the wild coastal trails around Sydney, Melbourne and the Sunshine Coast.
Researchers from Griffith’s School of Environment and the Menzies Health Institute of Queensland, along with Di Westaway, the Founder of Coastrek, surveyed 930 participants in the non-profit program and found that a major reason for Coastrek’s success is that it moves participants from thinking negatively to positively towards getting outdoors.
Most Coastrek participants are busy urban women with families who allocate little time to outdoor activities, but the Coastrek program provides them with incentives, personal rewards, peer support, and social justification to include outdoor activities in nature as part of their regular schedule.
The 3-month preparation period creates sustained behavioural change, with nature-based adventures becoming part of participants’ regular lifestyles.
There are 2000 to 3600 places per event, and some events sell out in less than 24 hours.
The researchers say past public policy measures intended to increase individual exposure to nature have implicitly assumed that large-scale encouragement and interest will lead everyone to increase their exposure to nature, which may not be the case.
If their theory is correct, then policy initiatives could prove more successful if they focused on a large change in attitude for a small proportion of the population, rather than a small change for a large proportion.
They say Coastrek provides a model that can be scaled up, expanded internationally, extended into different outdoor activities, and adopted broadly in public health policy.
Professor Ralf Buckley, International Chair in Ecotourism Research, says: “Coastrek gets several thousand suburban mums into three-month fitness programs every year because Di Westaway really understands the psychology of suburban mums who have gone through some difficult times. She knows how to remove all the obstacles and provide all the incentives, both at the same time.”