In January 2022, The Duke Endowment announced it is providing over $200,000 in grant funds to the Walk On! implementation research project at Wake Forest School of Medicine to increase the number of community-based walking programs for older adults. Walk On! is co-led by Barb Nicklas, PhD, Deputy Director, Sticht Center for Healthy Aging and Alzheimer's Prevention and Professor, Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine, and Justin B. Moore, PhD, Associate Professor, Implementation Science.

The long-term goal of this research is to establish a model program that provides an opportunity for mobility-limited and socially-isolated older adults to go on safe and effective walks while forming social connections. Walk On! sessions focus on long-distance walking and take place for one hour, two days a week for 12 weeks at a local community setting. Importantly, this program addresses the risk for mobility loss, and the social isolation that accompanies it for the most older adults, many of whom are underserved in terms of accessible opportunities to remain physically active and socially engaged.

The Starting Line

The Wake Forest School of Medicine Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) previously awarded pilot funding to expand the scope of the Walk On! research to the Charlotte area. Working with Mark Newman, PhD, Assistant Professor and research scientist of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Atrium Health, and Mark Hirsch, PhD, a senior scientist at Atrium Health, Nicklas and Moore will train new staff and implement the 12-week Walk On! program at two new community sites, one in Winston-Salem and another in Charlotte. They will examine the program’s effects on both qualitative and quantitative outcomes that will inform further dissemination of the program.

The program is based on prior walking intervention research that has been shown to improve physical function, reduce fall risk, and prevent mobility disability—even in those with compromised walking ability. However, most prior studies have been conducted in controlled research settings, and prior to Walk On! no evidence-based walking program was available for older adults with mobility limitations. Prior published research on Walk On!, “Implementation of a Community Walking Program (Walk On!) for Functionally-Limited Older Adults,” funded by the Program in Community-Engaged Research of the CTSI found high feasibility and acceptability of the program, as well as efficacy for improving physical function.

Taking the Next Step

CTSI announced the 2021 strategic combination joint pilot recipients in May, which encouraged the development of interdisciplinary research teams for translational research involving collaborators across the new Atrium Health enterprise system.

The Duke Endowment funding will allow the investigative team to test a framework for training of community program leaders and to examine feasibility, acceptability, and fidelity at multiple sites. Based in Charlotte and established in 1924 by industrialist and philanthropist James B. Duke, The Duke Endowment is a private foundation that strengthens communities in North Carolina and South Carolina by nurturing children, promoting health, educating minds and enriching spirits. Since its founding, it has distributed more than $4 billion in grants. The Endowment shares a name with Duke University and Duke Energy, but all are separate organizations.