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Success Story > Vegreville Legacy 4 Health Program: Getting Buy-in From Older Adults

Vegreville Legacy 4 Health Program - women of VegrevilleAbout two years ago, a team made up of a nutritionist and representatives from the Canadian Cancer Society, East Central Health Region and the Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) of Vegreville got together to talk about promoting more indoor walking among Vegreville seniors.

Loretta Kroeker (a Health Promotion Facilitator from the East Central Health Region) says that the team understood the importance of involving older adults right from the beginning.

Vegreville, Alberta
The project: Vegreville has started a twice-weekly indoor walking program for older adults that includes regular health information sessions.
Population: About 5,000
Main industries: Farming, modular home construction, an immigration case processing centre and an Alberta research station
Nearest large towns: About one hour to Edmonton

To find out what kind of program local seniors wanted, the team surveyed “senior coffee drinkers.” Loretta says that “you always know where and when people are drinking coffee in a small town.”

The team went into Vegreville coffee shops to ask seniors a variety of questions about their walking habits, including:

  • Did they like to walk?

  • What time of day and how many times a week did they walk?

  • Would they pay a fee for an indoor walking program?

  • Would they like to walk to music?

  • Did they face any barriers to walking (e.g., health barriers)?

  • Did they do any other physical activity?

As the survey showed that local older adults would support an indoor walking program, the team got busy trying to find them a place to walk.

“People think that by the time you’re 65, 75, and you farm all of your life, you deserve to sit in the recliner and do nothing … you have to do some physical activity or you won’t be here for your grandchildren.”

Participant in the Legacy 4 Health Program

Knowing that the town council had an empty building that they were eager to rent out, the team asked about using the building during the day. The Council agreed to rent out the building for a small fee (paid by participants who each pay $1 per walking session).

The program also received start-up grants from the Alberta Center for Injury Control and Research and the East Central Health Region. This money goes to pay expenses such as honariums, music CDs and a disc player.

About 100 people are now registered in the twice-weekly program. Loretta says that between 15 and 20 people attend each session.

Older adult volunteers open the gym and collect the participant fees. As Loretta says, “Nobody leads the walk. It’s client-driven.”

Loretta emphasizes the importance of involving older adults from the start: “If we didn’t have the buy-in of a core group, it wouldn’t work at all.” Although she says that a program like this would really benefit from a paid coordinator, Legacy 4 Health has thrived because of a core group of seniors who’ve been on board from the beginning.

“I think you’re healthier. It helps your mental outlook. Keep you young I guess.”
Participant in the Legacy 4 Health Program

The program encourages people to keep coming using a variety of personal incentives. For example, participants receive prizes after attending 25 and 50 sessions. Right now, participants are trying to “walk across Canada.” A laminated map on the gym wall keeps track of their progress and motivates them to keep going.

About once a month, health information sessions take place right after the walking session in a small meeting room beside the gym. A variety of experts have covered topics such as chronic disease prevention, medication safety, “chair yoga” and foot health. (Many of the topics are suggested by the older adult participants.)

Both the FCSS Volunteer Coordinator and the East Central Health Region representative spend about two to four hours a week coordinating the project, e.g., arranging speakers for the information sessions.

One of the ways that participants publicize the program is to participate in the town parade. Loretta is proud of the fact that last year, “our float came first in the non-commercial category.”

Vegreville sneakers logoLegacy 4 Health has its own running shoe logo, which is used in all advertising and in the newsletter mailed out to registrants. Organizers have also had the logo printed on towels and t-shirts as well as on a big canvas banner used in the parade.

Loretta says that they often promote the program through the local newspaper, especially to highlight awards or special speaker days. For example, the local newspaper covered the program’s first anniversary celebrations.

In 2006, Vegreville won all four prizes in the Government of Alberta’s Community Choosewell Challenge (for more information on the Challenge, go to

Loretta believes that the innovative Legacy 4 Health program “put us over the top.” Vegreville was the only town in Alberta to win all four awards.

And the spin-off benefits of the program? Loretta sees a change in attitude among many of the participants. Many of them of have taken more “control of their lives” in terms of dealing with chronic diseases or setting personal health goals for themselves.

“You actually miss the physical activity, like, if you go away for a while and you haven’t done your regular routine, you feel it, you miss it. It’s kind of addictive once you get started.”
Participant in the Legacy 4 Health Program

She has also heard participants say that the sessions help relieve depression and are important to them socially. As Loretta says, “The social life is the best gift.”

The class allows people to renew old acquaintances and to make new friends. She’s heard many people making arrangements to go to lunch together after the session ends at 11 a.m.

Loretta has one other piece of advice for people starting similar programs in small towns. Be prepared to find that no one turns up for class if there’s another major event at the same time. For example, she says, “you’ll notice that no one comes on the same day as the town’s ‘Royal Purple’ Mother’s Day tea!”

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