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Sacramento, California:

Walking Together for Health

Program Description: Engaging the Community

Since 2000, Sacramento’s walking program, “Neighborhood Walk,” has provided a social
support network to increase physical activity among older adults.

The City of Sacramento Parks and Recreation Department organized ten walking groups based in walkers posing for cameradiverse geographic neighborhoods. City staff collaborated with community leaders to tell residents about the groups. Print materials about the walking groups included ads in regional newspapers, articles in community newsletters, and fliers placed in local businesses and in every neighborhood mailbox. Though time- and resource-intensive, the door-to-door method was an effective way to recruit participants.

With residents’ support, city staff organized the walking groups. Once the groups were established, city staff provided minimal oversight. The groups are self-paced, self-motivated, and self-directed. At the beginning of the program, staff helped groups establish a route with a neutral meeting place, such as a park or community center.17 Now groups determine their own routes and meeting times.

The city provided small incentives, including “Neighborhood Walk” tee-shirts and sun visors to motivate participants. To recruit more members, groups distributed fliers as they walked. City staff encouraged groups to meet socially outside of the walking groups to strengthen group bonds.

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Participation: Keeping Participants Motivated

Of the ten original groups, five were still active in 2002. City staff found motivational activities – a lecture series, which meets every six weeks on various health and aging issues, and a newsletter profiling older walkers – key to sustaining groups. Quarterly social functions, such as barbeques, are also held. Select walking groups have been featured on television ads, which provide positive feedback for participants and establish new community norms.

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According to group records, approximately 25 percent of the initial 280 participants continue to walk in the five groups, on their own, or with a neighbor. Reasons for the dissolution of groups varied; for example, one lost momentum because of winter weather. Typically, about 50 percent of individuals drop out of an exercise program in the first 3-6 months.18 The Sacramento program’s 25 percent retention rate after two years is considered a modest success, especially given the reliance on one staff member, part-time employees, and unpaid interns.



Partners: Multi-Sector Involvement

  • Residents
  • City government and policymakers
  • Community and service groups, such as neighborhood associations
  • Local businesses
  • Colleges and Universities
  • Police

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The process depended on not telling people what to do but asking them what and how.
– Lisa Cirill, former project coordinator.

The Bottom Line: Funding

For the first two years, the program and staff were partially funded by the state through its preventive services block grant from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Currently, thejoggers program is funded under a three-year grant from the private California Wellness Foundation.

The City of Sacramento has absorbed residual expenses and uses unpaid interns as recreation aides to minimize cost. The city plans to continue support for the walking groups, regardless of future funding from outside sources.

Future Plans: Increasing Fitness Across Generations

City staff seeks to build inter-generational groups, an idea that originated in the walking groups. Although the groups were originally designed for those 50 years and older, a range of walkers joined the groups. Creating inter-generational groups would have several benefits:

  • Promoting physical activity across the lifespan;
  • Helping older adults feel less threatened by youth in the neighborhood, a possible barrier to walking;
  • Expanding social networks through interaction between neighbors of different ages;
  • Reducing social isolation felt by some residents; and
  • Helping make physical activity a social norm.

Evaluation: Limited Qualitative Evidence

Like Nashville, Sacramento has not conducted an outcome evaluation. City staff use anecdotal information to illustrate program achievements.

Biggest Success: Community Involvement

After two years, one in four participants remain physically and socially active by taking part in the
walking groups.

Biggest Obstacle: Limited Resources

City staff reports that limited time and resources impede program growth; they cannot provide ongoing guidance to all groups. A recent study showed that community-wide programs must be carefully planned and coordinated, with well-trained staff and sufficient resources, if they are to have an impact.19

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