A WORLD first study has found destinations in the Perth metropolitan area facilitating social interaction are key motivators for older adults taking walks, emphasising the importance of social infrastructure in encouraging healthy, active aging.
Conducted by the University of Western Australia’s Centre for the Built Environment and Health, the study is part of an ongoing project that examines the impact of the built environment on health across the life course.
Lead author Andrea Nathan says previous studies in adults found shops and retail destinations to be related to walking, an association that was not reflected in the older population.
“What was surprising about our findings was that we found little evidence of retail destinations being related to walking—it was the destinations facilitating social activity that showed the strongest associations,” Ms Nathan says.
“Destinations where you might meet and catch-up with other people or places where you might bump into others and stop for a chat were more strongly associated with the walking patterns of older people.”
A first of its kind anywhere in the world, the study involved the detailed classification of walking destinations within 400m and 800m of the place of residence to determine how different destinations were associated with weekly walking behaviour in 2,918 adults aged 65-84 years living in the Perth metropolitan area from 2003-2009.
“There is growing consensus that neighbourhood urban form is related to people’s behaviour and health, but few studies consider older adults,” Ms Nathan says.
“The ways in which urban form relates to health may be different for different groups in society, so it is important to study the older population, as well as children and working age adults.”
According to Ms Nathan, the results indicate the importance of detailed research into walking destinations across the lifespan to provide urban planners, government agencies and health advocacy groups a stronger evidence base to support initiatives to create healthy, active environments.
“Older people living close to social infrastructure could be encouraged to walk to such places to increase levels of social engagement and participation,” she says.
“Leaving the house and having somewhere to walk to or people to talk to may also be important for overcoming loneliness or amounts of time spent sitting.”
“Access to commercial destinations within the neighbourhood and walking among Australian older adults” is available via open access from the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity.