"We found that older women who feel their neighborhoods are favorable for walking are up to 100 percent more physically active than those who see their neighborhoods as unfavorable for walking," said lead author Wendy King, an epidemiology student at the Graduate School of Public Health. "In addition, women who live near facilities and services like parks, trails or shops have considerably higher levels of activity than those whose homes are not within walking distance to such sites."
Investigators conducted a cross-sectional analysis of data collected on 149 Pittsburgh women whose average age was 74 years. Most lived in suburban or urban neighborhoods with low crime rates.
Study participants wore pedometers to measure their physical activity. The women reported walking levels, leisure time physical activity and neighborhood environmental features in interviews and questionnaires.
Results showed that participants who lived within 20-minutes walking distance of a park; a biking or walking trail; or a department, discount or hardware store; and who lived in a neighborhood considered "walkable," had higher pedometer readings and higher total physical activity scores on questionnaires.
For instance, women who lived near biking or walking trails averaged 6,797 steps per day on the pedometer, versus 4,908 steps by those who do not live near a trail. Women who lived within walking distance from a department, discount or hardware store averaged 6,808 steps per day, versus 5,015 steps for those not living near such a store.
Those who rated their neighborhood walkability as "excellent" took an average of 6,349 steps per day, while those with self-rated "poor" neighborhood walkability averaged 3,376 steps per day.
"This study has great implications for the health of older women, who make up one of the least active groups in the United States," said co-author and senior investigator Andrea Kriska, Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology at the Graduate School of Public Health. "With the growing epidemic of inactivity and obesity, experts are stressing the need for more exercise. But here we show that older women, the group that most needs to heed this advice, are encountering environmental barriers that prevent them from getting that exercise."
The study authors add that follow-up research should include a more diverse group of individuals to better understand the effects of environmental factors in the population at large, and to determine specific features besides proximity to destinations that make a neighborhood favorable or unfavorable for walking.
Funding for this study was provided by the National Institutes of Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.