Eight simple changes to neighbourhoods can help seniors age well

October 12, 2017 by Jerome N Rachele, Jim Sallis, And Venurs Loh, The Conversation
Staying physically active can play a big part in ageing well – and a well-designed neighbourhood helps with that. Credit: Maylat/shutterstock

Where we live can play a big part in ageing well, largely because of the links between physical activity and wellbeing. Research shows that two-thirds of Australians prefer to age in place. That is, we want to live independently in our homes for as long as we can. Our neighbourhoods and their design can then improve or hinder our ability to get out of the house and be physically active.

The rapid ageing of Australia's population only adds to the importance of neighbourhood design. In 2016, 15% of Australians were aged 65 or older. That proportion is projected to double by 2056.

These trends present several social and economic challenges, particularly for the health sector. Designing neighbourhoods in ways that promote can help overcome these challenges.

Eight simple steps

The following is a short list of evidence-based steps local and state governments can take to assist to be physically active. These involve minor but effective changes to neighbourhood design.

  • Improve footpaths: Research indicates that older people have a higher risk of falls. Ensuring footpaths are level and crack-free, and free from obstructions, will encourage walking among older people – especially those with a disability.
  • Connected pedestrian networks: Introducing footpaths at the end of no-through-roads and across long street blocks reduces walking distances to destinations. This makes walking a more viable option.
  • Slowing traffic in high-pedestrian areas: Slowing traffic improves safety by reducing the risk of a collision. It also reduces the risk of death and serious injury in the event of a collision.
  • Age-friendly street crossings: Installing longer pedestrian crossing light sequences gives older pedestrians more time to cross, and installing refuge islands means those who walk more slowly can cross the street in two stages.
  • Disabled access at public transport: Although a form of motorised transport, public transport users undertake more incidental physical activity compared with car users. This is because they walk between transit stops and their origins and destinations. Improving disabled access helps make a viable option for more older people.
  • Places to rest: Providing rest spots such as benches enables older people to break up their walk and rest when needed.
  • Planting trees: Planting trees creates more pleasant scenery to enjoy on a walk. It also provides shade on hot days.
  • Improving safety: Ensuring that streets are well-lit and reducing graffiti and signs of decay are likely to improve perceptions of safety among older people.

Why physical activity matters

Physical function – the ability to undertake everyday activities such as walking, bathing and climbing stairs – often declines as people age. The reason for this is that ageing is often accompanied by a reduction in muscle strength, flexibility and cardiorespiratory reserves.

Regular physical activity can prevent or slow the decline in physical function, even among those with existing health conditions.

Middle-to-older aged adults can reduce their risk of physical function decline by 30% with (at least 150 minutes per week). This includes recreational physical activity, like walking the dog, or incidental physical activity, such as walking to the shops or to visit friends.

By making minor changes as outlined above, the health and longevity of our elderly population can be extended. Such changes will help our elderly age well in place.

Explore further: Over 60s not using public transport despite health benefits

Related Stories

Over 60s not using public transport despite health benefits

September 29, 2017
Two thirds of adults over 60 rarely or never use public transport, even though it's free and brings health benefits, according to a UCL-led study. 

Walkable neighborhoods linked with more active older adults 

October 12, 2017
Older adults who lived in neighborhoods where it was easy to walk to daily destinations were more physically active than those in less walkable neighborhoods, a study in Barcelona, Spain, showed. The results have implications ...

The magic pill is exercise

September 11, 2017
As people age, walking and balance become more of a challenge, but also more of a necessity. Older adults who aren't physically active increase their risk of illness, hospitalization and disability. Just how much exercise ...

Shops and smaller blocks key for active residents

January 19, 2016
A community centre, a 'main street' layout, short blocks, footpaths and street trees are the best features for encouraging people to walk around their suburb, according to a study of Perth neighbourhoods.

More TV & less physical activity ramps up risk of walking disability

August 30, 2017
Older people who watched more than five hours of TV per day and reported three or fewer hours per week of total physical activity had more than a three-fold higher risk of being unable to walk or having difficulty walking ...

U.S. lagging in walking, walkable community development

September 15, 2017
The United States earns failing grades when it comes to the number of people walking to work and school plus the number of walkable communities, finds a new national report.

Recommended for you

Sweet, bitter, fat: New study reveals impact of genetics on how kids snack

February 22, 2018
Whether your child asks for crackers, cookies or veggies to snack on could be linked to genetics, according to new findings from the Guelph Family Health Study at the University of Guelph.

The good and bad health news about your exercise posts on social media

February 22, 2018
We all have that Facebook friend—or 10—who regularly posts photos of his or her fitness pursuits: on the elliptical at the gym, hiking through the wilderness, crossing a 10K finish line.

Smartphones are bad for some teens, not all

February 21, 2018
Is the next generation better or worse off because of smartphones? The answer is complex and research shows it largely depends on their lives offline.

Tackling health problems in the young is crucial for their children's future

February 21, 2018
A child's growth and development is affected by the health and lifestyles of their parents before pregnancy - even going back to adolescence - according to a new study by researchers at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, ...

Lead and other toxic metals found in e-cigarette 'vapors': study

February 21, 2018
Significant amounts of toxic metals, including lead, leak from some e-cigarette heating coils and are present in the aerosols inhaled by users, according to a study from scientists at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public ...

Why teens need up to 10 hours' sleep

February 21, 2018
Technology, other distractions and staying up late make is difficult, but researchers say teenagers need to make time for 8-10 hours of sleep a night to optimise their performance and maintain good health and wellbeing.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.