Factors influencing outdoor walking activity in older adults
Maisel, Jordana Lorinczy
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Older adults are particularly vulnerable to poorly designed environments. The built environment and its perceptions can potentially support or discourage this growing cohort to engage in outdoor activities. Municipalities can uniquely promote physical activity for this targeted population through their planning and design processes. This research explored neighborhood perceptions of older adults and how differing perceptions influence their decision to walk. The results confirm that neighborhood perceptions vary across participants. Older adults from rural, suburban, and urban communities report significantly different perceptions. Perceptions also vary by socio-demographic characteristics. While walking activity does not significantly differ across neighborhood types, some environmental perceptions are associated with specific walking behaviors. These relationships also vary by neighborhood type and socio-demographic variables. Interviews with older women confirm the presence of physical, personal, social, and temporal barriers and motivators to walking. The focus on environmental perceptions in this research offers policy makers, urban planners, engineers, public works officials, and public health providers with findings and recommendations that specifically address walking in older adults, a growing population uniquely affected by the environment.