Increasing community-level social support for physical activity in the rural Southwestern United States

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This study reports on a community-university partnership in a rural New Mexico community that aims to increase physical activity (PA) by translating research into practice. The Guide recommendations include community-wide campaigns, increasing and enhancing access to places for PA, social support, street and community-scale design and policy, and individually adapted programs for PA. This article reports on the ways in which social support was integrated into each of these community guide recommendations as well as changing the social context to make individuals’ default decisions healthy.

Subjects and Methods

Qualitative research methods included conducting and analyzing interviews with community members, walking and hiking group members, local news articles, and meeting notes of the community-university partnership. Participants reported social support challenges around the cultural context and gender norms related to PA, weather, the built environment, safety, and policy.


The community-university partnership addressed these challenges by enlisting walking champions who served as role models in the community and began to change social norms around walking; challenging environmental and safety conditions were addressed through community campaign efforts and changes in the built environment.


Using a multi-pronged, multi-level approach to address barriers to PA at the community level may result in increases in social support for PA that go beyond efforts that focus on the individual level and provide integrated, holistic strategies to address health disparities in rural communities.