The University of Central Florida received a $1.3 million federal grant to study whether Get Active Orlando’s walking, bicycling and community gardening programs are helping older adults and lower-income, minority families become more physically active.

The two-year grant from the National Institutes of Health uses funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or federal stimulus money. It creates five two-year jobs in Orlando.

Dr. Karen Dennis, a professor in UCF’s College of Nursing, and Get Active Orlando will investigate the effectiveness of “Adult Bike Giveaway,” a program that donates unclaimed, refurbished bicycles; “Community Gardening,” an effort to motivate youth and adults to garden; and “Senior Walking,” a senior-adult walking program. The three programs, conducted by the multi-disciplinary, multi-agency Get Active Orlando partnership, promote physical activity among people at risk for sedentary lifestyles.

Study results are expected to identify effective strategies to encourage physically active lifestyles in sustainable, community-based programs, and contribute to the development of a national model program for other cities to easily adopt.

The study is based in the City of Orlando’s Community Redevelopment Area – 1,620 acres encompassing the downtown business area and its adjacent neighborhoods.

Sixty-one study participants will be enrolled in each activity. Using focus groups, self-reporting, GIS mapping and physical activity measuring devices, researchers will gather data on the 183 participants’ physical activity now and over the course of two years.

“We needed to add a research component to Get Active Orlando to determine whether these programs are really working to get Orlando residents physically active,” Dr. Dennis said.

The “Senior Walking” program features group-led walking sessions two times a week for 10 weeks, including safety and physical activity instruction. The “Bicycle Giveaway” program targets low-income minority adults who receive a free bicycle, accessories, safety instruction and maintenance clinics. They also go on weekly group rides. The “Community Gardening” program includes educational sessions and hands-on demonstrations.

Get Active Orlando is a partnership of local organizations and individuals led by the City of Orlando that encourages all Orlando citizens to be physically active as a part of daily living. Since 2003, Get Active Orlando, its community partners and the Mayor’s Active Living Advisory Committee have worked collaboratively to establish innovative approaches to community design, public policies, programs, communication strategies and grassroots community involvement to increase physical activity.

“Healthy activities such as walking, cycling and gardening should be made part of our everyday lives. Making active living choices accessible to Orlando’s residents enhances the quality of life for everyone in our community,” said Orlando’s Mayor Buddy Dyer. “I applaud Get Active Orlando, UCF’s College of Nursing and the many partners that made receiving this grant possible.”

Dean Grandin, City of Orlando’s planning director and Get Active Orlando’s project director, described the grant as an opportunity to gather much-needed feedback. “This grant will help us ensure that Get Active Orlando programs are helping Orlando’s at-risk residents stay healthy and maintain physically active lifestyles.”

The funding was provided by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, an agency of the National Institutes of Health.