Active Choices: A 'stepped-down' program to promote group-based physical activity to DVA clients

Australian Government Department of Veterans' Affairs

This project developed and trialled Active Choices, a new physical activity support program for military service veterans and their families. The 12-week program linked participants to local opportunities for physical activity in their community, and taught them self-management strategies to help them with maintaining their new physically active lifestyle.

It was trialled at UQ in 2020-2021, with 35 participants enrolling in Active Choices. Participants completed measures of physical activity and psychosocial wellbeing at the beginning and end of the program to evaluate its effectiveness.

The project found that Active Choices helped participants to improve their physical activity levels, with 86% of the group reporting that their physical activity levels had improved because of the program. Before starting Active Choices, only 16% of participants were meeting the recommended guidelines for physical activity, while at the end of the program this had increased to 42%.  It also found that participation in Active Choices positively impacted psychosocial outcomes. Social connectedness was seen to improve over time, with participants’ social group networks growing from pre- to post- program. In addition, 76% of the sample reported benefits to psychological wellbeing.

Research Team

Associate Professor Nicholas GilsonDr Zoe PapinczakProfessor Wendy BrownDr Gregore Iven Mielke, Professor Catherine HaslamDr Jonas Fooken

Funding Body

Australian Government Department of Veterans' Affairs.

Project outputs
  • An evidence-based support program to promote self-managed physical activity in veterans and their families, along with the supporting program materials needed for future implementation (e.g., resource booklet for participants, implementation manual for providers).
  • Two research papers that identify best-practice strategies for increasing physical activity in veterans and their families, and which provide practical recommendations for allied health professionals and policy- makers for promoting self-managed physical activity in this population. One of the papers is a systematic review and the other publication is under review. 

The project shows that Active Choices has the potential to positively impact the health and wellbeing of veterans and their families through supporting their participation in physical activity. Regular engagement in physical activity is linked to a myriad of important health outcomes, like reduced risk of illness from chronic disease, and improved physical and cognitive function. The study found that participants reported a range of health benefits at the end of the program which were linked to increased physical activity, including improved mood, improved physical function and fitness, improved sleep quality, reduced pain and weight loss.  The project could also have potential economic impacts, as increasing the health and wellbeing of veterans and their families through engagement in physical activity, could reduce the healthcare costs for this population.

Participants reported;

"I enjoyed the fact that I was able to get fitter and healthier, and that I was able to start socialising more again. I also enjoyed getting back into my running and adventure activities. That’s been really excellent for me.”

“I think we know that exercise helps with mental health and this study has proved it for me. I think that the discipline of going to the gym at least twice a week has certainly helped me to avoid a depressive cycle.”

“I’d say the biggest thing I’ve found going through the program and doing more exercise is that my flexibility and movement in my body is 100% better than what it was.”

“I feel more alive, more energised and like I have purpose. I’ve got something to do every day apart from what my normal activities are, and it makes me feel like I’m achieving something.”

Project members

HMNS Researchers

Associate Professor Nicholas Gilson

Associate Professor & Director of Engagement
School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences