Walking is a simple and cheap way for older adults to exercise. However, the ability to get out of the house and access the community has benefits far beyond exercise. It helps to maintain community links and social contact, which in turn supports mental and cognitive health.
Through our Walking Connects project, Living Streets works alongside older adults to develop ideas for ways to access their communities and walk more. Our participants want to walk everyday journeys such as shopping and meeting with friends, as well as for pleasure and exercise.
We asked more than 100 older adults to tell us the things that support them to walk and the things that hold them back.
This is what they said:
KEEP IT CLEAR
Smooth footpaths without clutter, which are well lit and well maintained, can be crucial to maintaining mobility: older adults can be vulnerable to falls and fear of falling is a serious barrier to walking.
Drop kerbs at junctions are important – but it’s just as important that they are not blocked by parked cars, bins or temporary signs. Councils and governments need to put in place, and enforce, regulations that keep walking routes clear and safe.
PLAN FOR REST AND RELIEF
Older adults may need to plan for regular breaks when walking, so seating at bus stops and along paths can make all the difference. Many people also told us that access to public toilets means the difference between an enjoyable day out and staying at home. Footway and road repairs can be more disruptive to older adults who need to plan routes and rests.
PROTECT WALKING SPACE
Older adults with impaired mobility or vision are particularly at risk when they come into contact with other modes of transport. Pedestrian crossing lights that are green for only seconds at a time leave people feeling vulnerable to traffic, and path designs that bring cyclists and pedestrians into the same space can lead to people feeling unsafe.
Other people’s behaviour is a significant barrier for lots of our participants. Whether it’s antisocial parking, cycling on pavements or pushy fellow pedestrians, older adults’ confidence to get out and about in their own communities can easily be knocked if they feel at risk of falls or collisions.
KEEP IT SOCIAL
Walking with friends and family is a big facilitator of walking for our participants, increasing confidence and making travel social and supportive.
For older adults, the least likely age group to meet physical activity targets, walking can be a crucial way to maintain physical health, continue to participate in the community, and promote emotional and cognitive wellbeing. However, many older adults find that the public realm does not support them to walk everyday journeys. We need to make the links between walking, health and the state of our public realm, and make our streets and public spaces safe and welcoming for older adults.
Download our Guide to Getting Better Streets and Pavements and our Walking Connects Case Studies at livingstreets.org.uk/scotland
For more information on Walking Connects please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org 0131 246 2741
Blog Author:Kate Joester, Project Coordinator (Walking Connects) Scotland, Living Streets Scotland