2024 Built Environment Chronic Disease Physical Activity

Southeast Missouri is Still “Moving” After PRC Intervention Ends

Written by Tim Poor

Heartland Moves, an intervention to promote physical activity in Southeast Missouri, has ended, but the project’s local manager, Dixie Duncan, is still “Moving.”  She’s working with communities to expand and develop walking trails, and she’s continuing to promote groups of walkers in conjunction with the wellness council in Poplar Bluff and the local parks department.

“I think the communities that really took off on the project are developing coalitions and working with them to prioritize physical activity,” Duncan said. She is also working with a group in Van Buren, Mo., to develop a 4.5-mile walking trail from Big Spring Park to Van Buren, where she lives.

Beginning in 2017 with funds from the National Institutes of Health, Heartland Moves was designed to increase physical activity among rural Missourians to decrease the burden of cancer using local input to develop strategies for achieving goals with available local resources. Data collection ended in 2022, and the research team is working on a draft paper to explain their findings. They hope the results will provide researchers and practitioners the ability to use real-world approaches to increase physical activity among rural populations.

The Covid-19 pandemic struck in the middle of the research, forcing the team to adapt. Duncan said the team used text messaging to target community members.  “I was proud of that because our messages were not just generic text messages. We did our best to make them as community-specific as possible, and that was one of the most effective parts of the intervention.”

Alan Beck, the project manager, said community-based studies often struggle with relationship-building between the community and the university, but not Heartland Moves.  “Having a local person who knows the community and is passionate about the community, like Dixie, made relationships easy,” he said. “Those relationships served as a foundation for the entire program.” “Rural areas have an entirely different culture which is only known by those living in those communities,” added Beck, who is currently working in the Office of the Provost. “The pride, passion and resilience of communities in Southeast Missouri continually impress me, and I hope to continue to work with those communities in the future.”

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