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Q&A with Dr Eleanor Quested
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Q&A with Dr Eleanor Quested

Harnessing the appeal of professional sport to improve health for men with cardiovascular disease

Dr Eleanor Quested is an Associate Professor at Curtin University. Her research focuses on applying theories of motivation to improve health and well-being through participation in physical activity, sport, dance and physical education.

In 2019, Dr Quested received a Vanguard Grant to develop a healthy lifestyle program for men living with cardiovascular disease. The program is centred around Australian football.  

What are you currently researching?

Healthy lifestyle programs delivered at professional sport settings are an effective ‘hook’ to engage men in healthy behaviour change. The Aussie Fans in Training (Aussie-FIT) program involves 12 weekly sessions (of 90minutes each) that are designed to support men to make sustainable lifestyle changes. Among men with overweight and obesity, participation in Aussie-FIT and similar programs in the UK has been associated with positive outcomes such as:
  • reduced body weight
  • improved diet (for example, reduced fat and sugar intake, and increased fruit and vegetable intake)
  • increased physical activity
  • improved quality of life and well-being.
Importantly, unlike most lifestyle programs, the effects of these programs can last for at least 3 years after the program finishes. Programs like Aussie-FIT could also be an effective way of engaging men with cardiovascular disease to improve their health and wellbeing. This is particularly important for men who may struggle to adopt heart healthy behaviours following their heart event or diagnosis.

To date, this new and highly effective approach to engage men in healthy behaviour change has not been trialled in men with cardiovascular disease. In this feasibility trial, we will create a version of Aussie-FIT, adapted to address the unique needs of men living with cardiovascular disease. We will aim to recruit 72 people - 36 men will complete the “Aussie-FIT” program and 36 will receive “usual care”. We will compare the differences between the groups to understand if this version of Aussie-FIT has benefits for men with cardiovascular disease.

The Aussie-FIT program is run by coaches in local Western Australian football clubs who have undergone training to deliver the 12 weekly sessions. The program will consist of workshops on healthy eating and building physical activity and healthy eating habits, and will offer a range of exercises, ball skills and circuit training. We will do before and after assessments of weight, diet, physical activity levels, well-being and other cardiovascular disease risk factors (such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels).

What difference will your research make to people’s cardiovascular health in Australia?

Regular physical activity and heart healthy eating are critical to help reduce the risk of further heart problems in people with cardiovascular disease. However, sustaining a healthy lifestyle in the long term can be challenging for many people with cardiovascular disease. This can put people at risk of further heart problems and premature death. Importantly, there is good evidence that programs like Aussie-FIT can improve psychological well-being, and quality of life among the men who take part. I hope this research will provide new evidence of the feasibility and acceptability of this type of program among people living with cardiovascular disease. It will set the stage for a future program that uses a person’s passion for sport as a hook to engage them in healthy behaviour change. This program may also provide a new approach to complement cardiac rehabilitation.

What motivated you to do your research?

I have always loved sport, and really value the social and physical health benefits that sport has given me throughout my life.

As a researcher, I am passionate about exploring the variety of ways sport can improve health, quality of life and psychological and social well-being.

The idea of using sport to promote health has always intrigued me. You don’t need to be an athlete to reap the rewards that sporting environments can offer. I was originally inspired by the Football Fans in Training program, developed by colleagues from the University of Glasgow, in Scotland. With those colleagues, we developed the 'Australianised' version, Aussie-FIT, and recently tried it with 130 men living with overweight or obesity, in Western Australia. It’s been amazing to see the results of that program, and to hear about the difference it has made to the lives of the participating men. It has motivated me to try to extend the program to benefit more people. Having a heart event is a frightening and life changing experience. The health and psychological benefits that Aussie-FIT may offer seems particularly important for this population. I was motivated to see whether it was possible to create opportunities for men with cardiovascular disease to take part in, and benefit from, participation in Aussie-FIT at their local footy club.

What role has Heart Foundation funding had in your career journey?

The Vanguard grant has allowed me to begin to explore whether the Aussie-FIT program can improve the health of men with cardiovascular disease. This funding creates a fantastic opportunity to explore the factors that might impact on whether the program can be rolled out more widely – including why men may or may not want to take part. Longer term, I would love to further develop this program to focus more broadly on using sport to promote heart health in both people with and without existing cardiovascular disease.

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