Exploring cancer survivors' experiences in a group-based walking program incorporating behaviour change techniques


Background: Many cancer survivors report difficulties participating in physical activity (PA) regularly. Instructor-led, group-based PA programs can facilitate PA. Yet, behaviour change techniques (BCTs) are infrequently used during group-based programs to increase participants' knowledge and confidence to maintain PA post-program; this may partly explain the limited impact these programs have on PA post-program. We conducted a single-arm study to explore how an 8-week group-based walking program incorporating BCTs within weekly structured small group discussions can help cancer survivors develop an active lifestyle. Methods: Sevenn female cancer survivors (Mage=49.29+/-7.72 years) participated in our program and were interviewed separately after its completion. Data were thematically analyzed. Results: Participants' experiences in our program were organized into three main themes: (1) taking steps for better health, (2) being supportive but not a support group, and (3) gaining competence. Initially, the program was an additional means for participants to accumulate PA as the 'group' created a culture of accountability. However, over time, the on-going encouragement, compassion, and understanding provided by the instructor and other participants was a greater motivator to participate in PA than walking itself. Though the BCTs utilized during the small group discussions (e.g., goal setting) were familiar to most participants, the opportunity to have personal struggles validated and discuss potential solutions amongst peers while learning the BCTs facilitated a sense of competence for PA post-program. Conclusion: Our study helps illustrate the importance of providing a caring social environment and incorporating BCTs into a group-based PA program for cancer survivors.