Team spirit key to engaging older men in weight-loss programmes
The study was led by Lorena Lozano-Sufrategui, Senior Lecturer in the School of Sport at Leeds Beckett, and published in the latest edition of Sport in Society journal. Exploring the experiences of 14 ageing men attending a football-led weight management programme delivered in a community sports setting, the research team found that the key to successfully engaging older men in physical activity was to offer a creative, inclusive programme which could be adapted appropriately to their differing needs and abilities.
Lorena explained: “Older men, traditionally described as 50 years of age or older, and whose weight is considered unhealthy, are a concern for public health policy. This population presents a higher risk of developing poor lifestyle behaviours, such as reduced physical activity levels and unhealthy diets; which can result in an increased risk of developing non-communicable diseases, including coronary artery disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.”
Older men whose weight is considered unhealthy can feel reluctant to engage in health improvement programmes, worrying about the possibility of injuries and lack of energy. To tackle this, new lifestyle programmes in sports settings, known as ‘Healthy Stadia’, have become popular – these settings that promote the health of visitors, fans, players, employees and the surrounding community.
The research team held in-depth one-on-one interviews with 14 participants of a men-only weight management programme provided by ABL Health and funded by Wigan Council. Eight of the men were within the older men classification of aged 50 and over and six were younger: all were classed as overweight or obese.
The programme aims to help men lose five per cent of their body weight through participation in physical activity and sport and education on healthy lifestyles. Each weekly session lasts 90 minutes, with 30 minutes of education followed by 60 minutes of physical activity, all taking place within a range of community venues across Ashton, Wigan and Leigh.
Lorena commented: “One of our key findings was that activities proved more successful with the men when practitioners were original, creative and offered a variety of both individual and group activities that promoted inclusivity and enjoyment. Participants particularly referred to the deliverers’ ability to modify some aspects of a game: for example one participant enjoyed playing football with a rugby ball, adding a bit of fun to the game and meaning that it made no difference whether someone was good at football; and another participant, who was in his 70s and with a degenerative disease, enjoyed the chance to play walking football. Therefore a key skill identified was an ability to adapt the physical activities and sports to the needs of the group.”
Although the men reported an increase in physical limitations through getting older, they valued physical activity as a way to improve their health and delay the decline related to ageing. Some men also reflected on getting older as symbolising the end of their young, seemingly imperishable body, and the start of a new stage in life of looking after a vulnerable body.
Lorena added: “The men felt that ageing presented barriers to join in organised sport and welcomed the opportunity to play sport with other men in the same situation. Many felt this opportunity was more valuable than the type of sport actually played.”
Alongside the barriers of ageing, another key theme within the discussions was the importance of enjoying the positive involvement and social interactions of ‘having a kick around’ with peers as opposed to feeling discouraged by traditional competitive sport.
Lorena explained: “The men talked about ‘inclusive competition’ elements being of most value to them – team spirit, fun, enjoyment, involvement and safety. This was felt by both the men affected by it and the younger more fit men, who were more concerned about everyone enjoying the game than playing to the best of their ability.”
Another important benefit of the programme highlighted was the development of a bond between the men. The relationships led to many of the participants playing further football games with other men’s health services organised by the programme, and organising other social events together as a group such as canoeing and going for lunch.
Lorena explained: “Our findings suggest that programmes were effective when they fostered social support. The social opportunities arising from the programme provided a source of enjoyment that was especially valued by men who were hesitant about their ability to play sport.”
Professor Kate Ardern, Director for public health at Wigan Council, said: “We were pleased to be able to help with this research and show that our approach to reaching out to areas of the community who might not necessarily engage in traditional weight management methods through such schemes is one that is positive for men. This encourages them to stay active and eat healthily, in turn looking after their health and reducing the risk of poor health and the resultant costs from treatment.”
The researchers found two key practical implications as a result of the study. Firstly that managers should prepare practitioners to promote their courses as inclusive rather than confrontational and oppositional. This can be done by, for example, including clear messages such as ‘all ages welcome’ and ‘open to all levels of ability’. Secondly, whilst previous research has called for more appropriate professional development for practitioners, these have focused on sport-based qualifications. The study recommends that it would be valuable to use other resources that provide specific directions on how to work with older men.
This research contributes to the work of the Centre for Active Lifestyles at Leeds Beckett University and aims to impact on the practice of public health practitioners, as well as the lives of people in local communities.
To find out more about the programme provided by ABL Health, please call 01942 496496.