The Victorian Active Ageing Partnership’s annual conference was this year centred on ‘Communication, older people and physical activity: Giving and receiving the message’.
Held on Thursday 29 August, the event opened with an address by Victorian Commissioner for Senior Victorians Gerard Mansour, who reiterated the message that today’s older generation is more online and able than ever before.
With an ageing generation, there are more people than ever accessing our health facilities. Research has long shown that physical activity improves health outcomes – what we need to explore is why this message is not being heard or acted on.
Through a presentation by Monash University’s Dr Darshini Ayton, conference attendees learned it is how the message is delivered that counts.
She used the example of food manufacturer Kraft, which changed the labelling on its ‘mac & cheese’ to include ‘reduced salt’ – there was an instant decline in sales.But when the salt levels remained the same and the marketing changed to ‘just a hint of salt’, sales pushed well past the original product.
How to deliver a health message that is not an instant turn-off?
Dr Darshini’s key messages were:
- Are you designing programs for a need that is not recognised? For example, older Australians are much more likely to describe a fall using a euphemism, such as ‘I slipped’ or ‘I didn’t watch where I was going’.If you don’t speak their language, do they hear your message?
- Raise awareness not alarm. For example, ‘What will you gain from stopping smoking?’ rather than ‘What will happen to you if you keep smoking?’ has proved to be more effective in the tobacco wars.
COTA Victoria’s Michelle Wright, Program Co-ordinator for Strength For Life (previously Living Longer Living Stronger™), delivered an interactive session on ‘Critical messages that motivate older people to live longer and live stronger’.
Drawing from interviews with program participants, Michelle delivered three key messages:
- What strength training looks like matters
The words ‘strength training’ may conjure images of muscle-bound, protein shake-drinking youth. For some, it may send a message that they will lose femininity and softness. For strength training to be appealing, we need to actively use images of older adults enjoying it. These images need to resonate with the audience and be authentic.
- Support is essential
This starts from the front desk and continues through to the professional who is creating and directing the program. Joining an exercise program can be incredibly intimidating and having a friendly face from the start can make the difference between a new participant sticking with the program or quitting.
- Word of mouth
Messages of the benefits of strength training come from many sources. For older adults, the strongest recommendations may come from their health professional. Nevertheless, these messages are not always acted on. There is one source that has the most impact – a trusted source, such as a friend or relative. When they recommend an exercise program, the motivation to join it increases significantly. Friendships that develop within a program also affect whether people stick with it.
No one doubts the research showing the benefits of strength training. But if the message is not resonating or coming from a trusted source, then it will have no gravity. If we want to combat the rise of lifestyle diseases and age-related health issues, then looking carefully at how that message is being delivered may make the biggest difference in older adults attending strength-based training programs.
Strength For Life (formerly known as Living Longer Living Stronger™) has positively affected thousands of older Australians for nearly 20 years. Using images that represent the people participating, having supportive and friendly staff, and encouraging participants to bring their friends and family along to join in the fun (and benefits) has worked in making our program successful.
To find out about a Strength For Life program near you, contact us on 1300 13 50 90 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.