Background: Physical inactivity is a major driver of costly health problems, especially in older adults. Structured walking programs are one approach for increasing physical activity, although there is little information about how the characteristics of these programs influence their effectiveness. It was hypothesized that cash incentives would increase acceptability and effectiveness while a group participation requirement would place a net burden on participants.
Methods: To measure preferences for specific characteristics of walking programs (i.e., minutes per day, days per week, organized or individual/informal group, cash incentive) and the likelihood of participation, a conjoint-analysis survey of 501 inactive adults aged >or=50 years was conducted in October 2006. Data were analyzed in 2007-2008.
Results: The most-preferred program was three 20-minute walks per week. Respondents had a strong preference for programs conducted outside of a formal group setting. Offering an incentive of $9 in cash per week ($468 per year) increased predicted participation by 31%.
Conclusions: The results suggest that the characteristics of walking programs, such as whether they involve participation in a formal group, substantially influence their perceived acceptability and the likelihood of participation. The results also suggest that, independent of other program attributes, modest financial incentives increase the likelihood of program participation by sedentary older adults, and thus are a potential means to increase the effectiveness of walking programs.