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Survey finds online fitness no replacement for real life connection

Survey finds online fitness no replacement for real life connection
December 16, 2020

To understand the benefit of recreation and fitness centres to the community, the Y in partnership with the City of Boroondara and Deakin University’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN) conducted the Community Health and Wellbeing Impact Evaluation Project across the Boroondara Leisure and Aquatics Facilities (BLAF) located in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.

The Y is one of Victoria’s largest health and wellness providers, managing over 70 council recreation and aquatic facilities. When the state of Victoria entered into lock down back in March 2020, many health enthusiasts found alternative ways to stay active when the fitness and recreation industry closed its doors overnight. Now that recreation centres have reopened, many providers are questioning how their facilities can once again positively contribute to the health and wellbeing of their community.

Over 2,700 people completed four surveys as part of the project. Participants covered a diverse range of age groups, although were skewed towards participants aged over 50 years of age and living in Boroondara for more than 10 years. Overall, survey respondents who spent more time at the facilities reported statistically significant positive impacts on health and wellbeing.

Professor Kylie Hesketh from IPAN said most survey respondents reported lifestyle behaviours (physical activity, sitting time, and diet and alcohol intake) that were in line with health guidelines and suggested healthier profiles than those seen in the broader population.

Professor Hesketh notes “regardless of their age and gender, members spending more time participating in activities at the facilities reported higher physical activity levels, less time sitting, higher fruit and vegetable intake, higher ratings of perceived health, and greater social connectedness than members spending less time at the facilities.

Mayor of Boroondara Garry Thompson highlighted that “these findings demonstrate the positive impact of the Boroondara programs, and services on the health and wellbeing of so many people in our community.

“Council is committed to continue funding and working on initiatives which support our resident’s healthy habits and these results also provide clear evidence that we are on the right track by investing in these important facilities so highly valued by our community.”

Respondents were particularly positive about the sense of community they felt at the facilities, as well as services that allowed older members and those with a disability to remain active.

YMCA Victoria Executive General Manager Recreation, Fiona Preston said that although the project was commissioned prior to COVID-19, the results came at an important time when the industry needed assurance that their facilities contribute positively to community health outcomes.

Preston advises “the results from the project are very reassuring, especially at a time when the industry is recovering from the impacts of COVID-19.

“We already know that physical activity improves both mental and physical wellbeing, and that people who visit YMCA managed centres reap those benefits. However, it’s uplifting to hear that the facilities are also a place where members in the community can find social connection and a sense of belonging.

“Thank you to the City of Boroondara for partnering with us to commission this project, and to Deakin University for conducting it. We look forward to collaborating with more council partners to gain a deeper understanding of the impact our centres have on people across the state.”

The Community Health and Wellbeing Impact Evaluation Project was commissioned as a pilot program in response to the March 2016 Victorian Auditor General’s Report regarding the need for councils to better evaluate recreational facilities in relation to their overall social, health and wellbeing objectives. The City of Boroondara, in partnership with the Y, plans to continue monitoring, evaluating and reviewing the benefits of the BLAF to better understand community health outcomes.

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