Age differences in the relation of perceived neighborhood environment to walking

Ryosuke Shigematsu, James F Sallis, Terry L Conway, Brian E Saelens, Lawrence D Frank, Kelli L Cain, James E Chapman, Abby C King
Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 2009, 41 (2): 314-21

PURPOSE: The strength of the relationship of environment to physical activity may differ by age group. Older adults were expected to be more affected by environmental attributes than younger adults. The present study examined age-related differences in associations between perceived neighborhood environment and physical activity.

METHODS: Participants were 1623 adults aged 20 to 97 yr divided into five groups: ages 20-39, 40-49, 50-65, 66-75, and 76+. They were recruited from King County/Seattle, WA, neighborhoods selected to vary in land use and median income. Participants completed questionnaires about neighborhood environment attributes and walking for transportation and for leisure purposes. Neighborhood environment, within a 15- to 20-min walk from home, was measured on nine attributes with the validated Neighborhood Environment Walkability Scale questionnaire: residential density, proximity to nonresidential land uses, ease of access to nonresidential uses, street connectivity, walking/cycling facilities, esthetics, pedestrian traffic safety, crime safety, and proximity to recreation facilities. Participants reported frequency and duration of walking using the validated International Physical Activity Questionnaire and the Community Healthy Activities Model Program for Seniors. Partial correlations were computed, adjusting for demographics.

RESULTS: Walking for transportation was significantly related to multiple perceived neighborhood attributes in all age groups, although walking for leisure was not. Walking for transportation was significantly related to almost all neighborhood environment variables in the youngest age group. In contrast, only two environmental attributes, proximity to nonresidential uses (like shops) and recreation facilities, were moderately correlated with walking for transportation in the two oldest groups.

CONCLUSION: Communities need to be designed with many favorable environmental attributes to support walking for transportation among younger adults. Having nonresidential destinations and recreation facilities within walking distance may be among the most important attributes to support older adults' physical activity.

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