Lessons from leading online health challenge

Photo Credit: photostock via FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Photo Credit: photostock via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In October, I had the opportunity to lead a health challenge for an online community group. It was my first time leading a health challenge and I tried to apply lessons from classes, as well as from webinars and other training on wellness programming. Overall, I think it went well, but there were some things I’d change if I did it again.

What worked:

Mixing it up: Every week there was a different way to get bonus points. People seemed to like the change and many chose to do the bonus activities each week.

Personal messages: When someone hadn’t posted activity or points in a while, I messaged them personally to remind them to submit activity for points. This was time consuming, but it was a smaller group so it ended up being okay. I wouldn’t do this for a large group, and I stopped doing this halfway through the month even for this small group. Instead, I sent a general reminder with the description of the new weekly bonus.

Incorporating many aspects of health: I tried to focus on different aspects of helath throughout the challenge when designing the activities that would earn points. I included physical health (physical activity, food tracking), goal setting (goals for the next month, motivation, setbacks, barriers), emotional health (stress), and social health (social support, physcial activity with people, recruiting a health buddy who will support goal for next month). Participants seemed to like these and find them useful and fun.

Not taking lack of participation personally (but I should have explored it more): It was difficult for me at first to deal with the emotions of having someone be very excited to sign up and then never participate, even when I sent them a personal message. However, I realize that things come up and sometimes participation in an event or activity you thought you had time for isn’t possible. Reminding myself of this was helpful for my emotions, but I think I ended up forgetting about them, which wasn’t so good. Many of the people who signed up and didn’t participate were new to the group. I wonder if they had different ideas about how the challenge was going to go (I should have asked).

Discussion boards: Each team had its own discussion board to post what they did (to get points) and to discuss with their team. One team ended up really using their board and the other team did not. However, they didn’t really use the board to discuss until I incentivized it by giving bonus points in the third week.

What could be improved:

Discussion boards: As I mentioned, I didn’t think about giving bonus points for participation until late in the month. Had I started with bonus points for interaction, I think more people would have done it.

Maximum points per week: I had it set up so each week had a total of 14 points maximum, one from 20 minutes or more of physical activity and one from the week’s bonus activity. This seemed like very little after a while and I wonder if it did not seem like enough to get people to be inspired to do the minimum required.

Minimum time required to get point: One of the suggestions I received at the end of the challenge was to reduce the minimum time required to get the point for physical activity from 20 minutes (with a cap of 1 point per day for physical activity) to 10 minutes (with additional points per each 10 minutes, with no physical activity points cap per day). The reason I had originally done the points cap and 20 minutes minimum was because that was what was done in previous months by other leaders, but it ended up being that only a few of the people in those challenges were even in this challenge. (It was hard to know who was going to sign up because most people signed up late, after the rules were established. So I should have changed them partway through when I found out, but somehow it didn’t occur to me). I knew that there were many people new to exercise and I wanted to make sure they knew that any activity was good and that they had the potential to help their team get the same number of points as the other team, no matter their ability to sustain physical activity. However, following this logic, it would have been wise to do 10 minutes minimum for 1 point, with a maximum of 6 points per day (for 60 minutes). This follows the recommendation that it is okay to do moderate to vigorous physical activity 10 minutes at a time, and it still wouldn’t provide incentive for obsessive physical activity. It would have been realistic and more motivating.

Asking for feedback sooner: I asked people when they signed up to tell me what they wanted to see in the challenge, and only a few people answered. Most of them said they didn’t have any expectation because it was the first one they participated in. When I asked the next time, it was as part of the bonus activity in the last three days of the challenge, and by then, not too many people were still participating. However, those that did answer the questions gave very valuable feedback. I would ask more frequently and earlier to get feedback on things that could be changed, and I would ask the people who signed up but aren’t participating what could be changed to make the challenge more appealing.

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Have you led a health-related challenge? What worked for you? What would you change for next time? What is your advice for people just learning about designing and administering health programs?

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Author: Shelly Najjar

MPH in Public Health Nutrition, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist // Freelance Writer, Community Builder // I have a very long Goal List (Bucket List) and I enjoy doing nail art.

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