Background: Physical exercise confers many health benefits, but it is difficult to motivate people to exercise. Although community exercise groups may facilitate initiation and persistence in an exercise program, reports regarding factors that allow such groups to flourish are limited.

Objectives: We performed a prospective qualitative evaluation of our experience starting a program of community-based, peer-led exercise groups for military veterans to identify important lessons learned.

Methods: We synthesized data from structured observations, post-observation debriefings, and focus groups. Our participants were trained peer leaders and exercise group members. Our main outcomes consisted of empirically derived lessons learned during the implementation of a peer-led group exercise program for veterans at multiple community sites. We collected and analyzed data from 40 observation visits (covering 14 sites), 7 transcribed debriefings, and 5 focus groups.

Results: We identified five lessons learned. (1) The camaraderie and social aspect of the exercise groups provided motivation for people to stay involved. (2) Shared responsibility and commitment to each other by the group members was instrumental to success. (3) Regular meeting times encouraged participation. (4) Variety, especially getting outdoors, was very popular for some groups. (5) Modest involvement of professionals encouraged ongoing engagement with the program.

Conclusions: Both social and programmatic issues influence implementation of group exercise programs for older, predominantly male, veterans. These results should be confirmed in other settings.


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pp. 379-386
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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