December 1996 // Volume 34 // Number 6 // Research in Brief // 6RIB4

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Implementing a Wellness Weekend Program

Using a weekend retreat format, a seven-year educational effort has successfully reached rural Extension audiences with topics that address national extension health and wellness priorities. Major objectives of the program are to encourage participants to adopt healthy lifestyle practices by reducing high risk behaviors and taking responsibilities for health decisions. Program evaluation data gathered from participants in the sixth year indicated that positive lifestyle behaviors have been adopted. Program planners have continued to adapt program format and direction to meet clientele needs and attract new audiences.

Berdine Maginnis
Extension Educator
University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension
Box Butte County
Alliance, Nebraska
Internet address:

Linda S. Boeckner
Extension Nutrition Specialist
University of Nebraska
Panhandle Research and Extension Center
Scottsbluff, Nebraska
Internet address:

Health care reform has captured the hearts and interests of many people throughout the United States. Cooperative Extension's national health initiative, "Decisions for Health," encourages people to adopt healthy lifestyles by reducing high risk behaviors and taking responsibility for health decisions (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension System, 1992; U.S. Department of Agriculture-Extension Service & Land-Grant University Cooperative Extension Services, 1994).

The following program description and evaluation details a seven-year regional health education effort that encourages healthy lifestyle practices and addresses individual physical, social, emotional, and intellectual needs of rural adult women.

Program Design

In 1988, Extension educators initiated a wellness education program to increase participant's knowledge and skills related to wellness as well as to provide a relaxing learning environment and opportunities for friendship and fun. A weekend retreat setting was selected to address a holistic model of wellness that included physical, social, emotional, and intellectual aspects. (Elsenrath, Hettler, & Leafgren, 1989). Weekend schedules included general and concurrent sessions and allowed time for reading, playing games, and participating in self-selected physical activities.

Sites, such as a regional 4-H Youth Camp and a state historical park, were selected to provide opportunities to "retreat" from a town or city environment. Partners from volunteer and governmental health agencies assisted Extension educators in developing and delivering the educational program. Accommodations and nutritious meals were arranged by Extension staff.

Costs for attending the weekend (two nights lodging, 6 meals) were kept between $35 - $70 because of grants from local foundations and corporations. Scholarships allowed women of limited income to attend. A variety of marketing techniques including direct mail, news releases, and promotions through wellness organizations were used to recruit participants.


Evaluation surveys were sent to thirty-six women four months following the 1993 Women's Wellness Weekend. Respondents used a post-then-pre technique to rank themselves on wellness activities based on how they saw themselves before attending the Weekend and four months after attending (Rockwell and Kohn, 1989).

Comparison of participants' ranking of each wellness factor prior to Women's Wellness Weekend and four months after Women's Wellness was completed. Responses of "Often/Almost Always" were compared to responses indicating "About Half the Time or less."

Response Rate and Demographics

Twenty-three usable surveys (64 percent response rate) were returned. One-third of respondents were between the ages of 26- 50; the remainder were 51 or older. Seventy-five percent of the women had received some education beyond high school and 67 percent were from rural areas or small towns.


In the exercise category, 18 percent "often" or "always" exercised at least three times per week prior to Women's Wellness and 41 percent indicated doing so at the four month follow-up time. Weekends featured sessions on walking, hiking, aerobic exercise, and stretching. Physical activity was encouraged during free time.


Thirty-five percent reported avoiding high fat foods in the pre-period compared to 78 percent at the four-month follow-up. There were similar reports of improvement for the addition of fiber-rich foods.

Scheduled nutrition workshop sessions, nutrition tips presented at meal times, and specially developed menus were among the nutrition activities at wellness weekends. Comments written by participants on the follow-up survey indicated that many wished to continue a focus on lowering the fat content of their diets.


Respondents also ranked themselves as having more enthusiasm (81% vs 38%), feeling good about themselves (67% vs 33%), and finding time for themselves (81% vs 48%) more often at the four- month follow-up than before the wellness weekend. Written comments about successes resulting from the weekend included the following: more time allowed for myself, improved sense of self- awareness and self-acceptance, increased acceptance of life's changes, and positive feelings about volunteer work.

The wellness weekends are planned to be uplifting, supportive, and encouraging. Within the retreat setting, there was sufficient time for informal discussions in a relaxed atmosphere.


Intellectual wellness categories did not show major differences between pre- and post-scores. As a group, these women scored high in this area prior to attending a wellness weekend. The fact that they attended may be a strong indicator of their motivation to continue to seek new information and participate in learning activities.

Conclusions and Implications

Twenty women attended the first wellness weekend in 1988. Attendance has grown in subsequent years to the point that it is necessary to limit attendance to 50 women. Program content for each of the wellness weekends is designed to capture the interests of participants from a variety of ages and life stages. Although a majority of participants are in the 50+ age range, the planning team is working to attract participants of all ages and has considered expanding to male audiences.

The current evaluation shows participants have made some positive changes in their nutritional and emotional/spiritual well-being. Since physical activity is the category most needing improvement, program planners are considering re-focused efforts to encourage regular physical activity in a manner appropriate to each participant's health status and age.


Elsenrath, D., Hettler, B., & Leafgren, F. (1989). Lifestyle assessment questionnaire - personal wellness report. Stevens Point, WI: National Wellness Institute.

Rockwell, S.K. and Kohn, H. (1989). Post-then-pre evaluation. Journal of Extension, XXVII(Summer), 19-21.

United States Department of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension System. (1992). Decisions for health - an extension system agenda. Madison, WI: National Extension Health Agenda Task Force Special Project, No. 91-EXCA-2-0148.

United States Department of Agriculture, Extension Service and Land-Grant University Cooperative Extension Services. (1994). Shaping our future: A strategic plan for nutrition, diet and health. Washington, D.C.: United States Department of Agriculture.