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16-12-2012 | Geriatrics | Article

Improving environment can get elderly out and about


Free abstract

medwireNews: Simple changes in an older person's local environment can have a positive impact on their level of outdoor physical activity, suggest study findings.

The team found that people were more likely to spend time participating in outdoor physical activity if they had a clean, nuisance-free local park, and were able to get to the park easily along an attractive and barrier-free route. The presence of other natural environments nearby was also a predictor of outdoor activity.

Being able to park their cars outside their houses also increased the likelihood of participants spending time outdoors.

Catherine Ward Thompson (University of Edinburgh, UK) and colleagues assessed levels of regular outdoor physical activity among 96 adults aged 65 years or older living in urban areas in England, Wales, and Scotland.

The participants were also taking part in a study involving residential street improvements in the UK known as Sustrans "DIY Streets." The improvements involved making local streets safer and more attractive using urban and landscape design, reducing speed and volume of traffic in the area, and changing parking space provision and layout.

Just over half of those surveyed live on streets that underwent improvements as part of this scheme (n=56) and the remainder on control streets that did not undergo improvements (n=40).

Two years after the intervention took place, those living on intervention streets perceived themselves to be significantly more active than those living on control streets. The number of participants reporting that "it is easy for me to walk on my street" also increased significantly in the intervention compared with the control group, and those in the intervention group also said the area was safer at night than at baseline.

However, self-reported levels of activity in the summer did not show significant increases from baseline in either group.

Ward Thompson and team conclude that environmental changes like the ones implemented in this study have the potential to benefit the older population, but concede that they are not sufficient on their own to have a significant impact on activity levels.

By Helen Albert, Senior medwireNews Reporter

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