Walkable neighborhoods linked with more active older adults 

October 12, 2017 by Oriol Marquet
Credit: CDC/Amanda Mills

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 for efforts to allow older adults to remain healthy and independent while they "age in place" in urban neighborhoods.

"Physical activity is an important aspect of aging because it helps maintain their functional capacity," says Oriol Marquet, a postdoctoral researcher at North Carolina State University and lead author of a paper on the topic. "Being physically active helps older adults postpone their physical decline and the onset of chronic diseases, and provides them with feelings of independence and empowerment that are highly valued for social and emotional health."

For the study, NC State researchers used data from the Catalan region's cross-sectional travel studies to determine how many older adults met the daily recommendation of 30 minutes of physical activity. Data was collected 10 years apart, for residents 65 to 75 years old in 2004 and for those 75 to 85 years old in 2014, though the study did not track activity for a specific group of participants over time.

Researchers analyzed the activity levels based on physical features of in the Barcelona Metropolitan Region, one of the European areas where the proportion of the population older than 65 is expected to triple over the next 50 years.

Experts calculated walkability scores for each neighborhood based on three factors: a neighborhood's population density; its mix of residential, public and commercial property; and the amount of land with desirable walking destinations such as retail stores, public facilities, service providers and historical areas.

Areas with high population density tended to have high-rise apartments rather than row houses or detached housing. A neighborhood with a good mix of homes, stores and workplaces made it more likely that residents would walk to do their errands or visit friends. Neighborhoods that lacked sidewalks or services within walking distance scored lower on walkability.

"Walking for transport is an important source of physical activity because it does not require special effort or investment, like going to a gym," Marquet said.

Residents 65 to 75 years old in walkable neighborhoods made more trips on foot than those in less walkable neighborhoods, and they were more likely to get in the recommended half-hour of daily physical activity. Those in the 75- to 85-year-old group were slightly less active, but those in more walkable neighborhoods took more trips on foot and spent significantly less time driving.

"This research matters because the U.S. and the world are aging, and where we are growing old matters for our health," said co-author Aaron Hipp, associate professor of community health and sustainability with NC State's College of Natural Resources. "In many of the Barcelona neighborhoods in the study, it's common for residents to stay in one place for long periods of time, maintaining their social ties. We need to find effective ways to build neighborhoods in Barcelona and in North Carolina that support healthy activity and allow older adults to age in place."

Myron Floyd, head of NC State's Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management, said the Barcelona study provides valuable information because of its focus on walking.

"Walking is one of the most accessible forms of physical activity – all you need is a good pair of shoes," Floyd said. "We know the importance of in preventing health issues such as Type II diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity."

Floyd is a member of the advisory panel for a recently released national from the National Physical Activity Plan, which encourages Americans to become more active. The group's 2017 United States Report Card on Walking and Walkable Communities gave the U.S. only one passing grade – a "C" in adult walking behavior. The report card gave the U.S. a "D" for and for pedestrian policies. In five other categories, the grade was an "F": children and youth walking behavior, pedestrian infrastructure, safety, institutional policies and public transportation. There was an "incomplete" grade for walking programs, based on a lack of data.

"We have a long way to go to increase walking and make neighborhoods more walkable in the U.S.," Floyd said. "But we know improvements will help with health outcomes, and they could be good for business as well by increasing local foot traffic in walkable areas. We hope the report can help in planning and decision-making at each level, with local planners, private industry, state departments of transportation and federal policymakers."

The Barcelona study, "Neighborhood walkability and active ageing: a difference in differences assessment of active transportation over ten years," is published in the Journal of Transport and Health.

Explore further: U.S. lagging in walking, walkable community development

More information: Oriol Marquet et al. Neighborhood walkability and active ageing: A difference in differences assessment of active transportation over ten years, Journal of Transport & Health (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.jth.2017.09.006

Related Stories

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.

Do 'walkable' neighborhoods reduce obesity, diabetes?

June 17, 2014
People who live in neighborhoods that are conducive to walking experienced a substantially lower rate of obesity, overweight and diabetes than those who lived in more auto-dependent neighborhoods, according to a pair of studies ...

Obesity rising in least walkable Ontario neighborhoods

May 24, 2016
Obesity rates in Southern Ontario cities have remained stable for more than a decade in highly walkable neighborhoods but continued to rise in less walkable ones, a new study has found. Neighbourhoods that were designed to ...

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. 

Global study finds neighborhood design helps put best foot forward for health

April 2, 2016
More walkable neighborhoods, parks and public transit could all reduce your chance of becoming one of the 600 million adults who battle obesity worldwide, according to researchers at University of California, San Diego School ...

Moving to a walking neighborhood is good for your blood pressure

November 8, 2015
People who moved from a neighborhood that required a vehicle to run errands to one that made walking-errands convenient were significantly less likely to have high blood pressure than people who moved from one low-walkability ...

Recommended for you

Experts devise plan to slash unnecessary medical testing

October 17, 2017
Researchers at top hospitals in the U.S. and Canada have developed an ambitious plan to eliminate unnecessary medical testing, with the goal of reducing medical bills while improving patient outcomes, safety and satisfaction.

New study: Nearly half of US medical care comes from emergency rooms

October 17, 2017
Nearly half of all US medical care is delivered by emergency departments, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM). And in recent years, the percentage of care delivered ...

No evidence that widely marketed technique to treat leaky bladder/prolapse works

October 16, 2017
There is no scientific evidence that a workout widely marketed to manage the symptoms of a leaky bladder and/or womb prolapse actually works, conclude experts in an editorial published online in the British Journal of Sports ...

Ten pence restaurant chain levy on sugary drinks linked to fall in sales

October 16, 2017
The introduction of a 10 pence levy on sugar sweetened drinks across the 'Jamie's Italian' chain of restaurants in the UK was associated with a relatively large fall in sales of these beverages of between 9 and 11 per cent, ...

New exercises help athletes manage dangerous breathing disorder

October 16, 2017
A novel set of breathing techniques developed at National Jewish Health help athletes overcome vocal cord dysfunction and improve performance during high-intensity exercise. Vocal cord dysfunction, now also referred to as ...

Learning and staying in shape key to longer lifespan, study finds

October 13, 2017
People who are overweight cut their life expectancy by two months for every extra kilogramme of weight they carry, research suggests.

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.