Urban green space and their impacts on physical activity levels of older people: exploring appropriate methodologies

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Extended life expectancy and the decrease in the birth rate have led to a global concern of population ageing (Garin et al., 2014) and is resulting in increasing pressures on public health expenditure. Evidence has shown that physical inactivity among older adults is associated with higher mortality, morbidity and an increased burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) worldwide (Adams et al., 2014; Arango et al., 2013; Woodcock et al., 2011). Although regular physical activity (PA) brings health benefits, there are high levels of physical inactivity within the general population. Worldwide, 31.1% adults are physical inactive (Hallal et al., 2012), in terms of older adults (aged 60 years and above) the proportion meeting physical activity guidelines ranged from 2.4 to 83.0% in a review of fifty-three studies (Sun et al., 2013). In Europe, it was found that 60–70% of older adults fail to meet physical activity guidelines (Eurobarometer, 2010). Low levels of physical activity of older adults is clearly a very substantial public health challenge. There is a growing body of research that examines the relationship between the built environment and physical activity (Handy et al., 2002; Nagel et al., 2008; Rech et al., 2012). It is widely recognized that physical activity is affected by a wide variety of built environment-related attributes, including street connectivity, residential density, land-use mix (Clifton et al., 2009; Lawrence D. Frank et al., 2005) as well as sidewalks, trails, recreational facilities, parks (Ferdinand et al., 2012), traffic density and speed, crime and safety and so on. (Ferdinand et al., 2012; Prezza et al., 2001). Besides, Physical activity can be categorized into four domains, including transportation, recreation, household and occupation, and each of these are influenced by different aspects of the built environment. For example, PA in the household and occupation domains appears to be less related to the relationships with the built environment (Van Cauwenberg et al., 2011), but transport and recreation offer key opportunities for interventions to promote health. This is critical for older adults who are more likely to suffer from a decrease in physical functions, and thus they are more vulnerable to be impacted by built environment barriers towards PA (Forsyth et al., 2009; Rantakokko et al., 2009). However, there is limited research focused on this specific demographic group (Van Cauwenberg et al., 2011; Cunningham and Michael, 2004). Therefore, it is imperative to enhance our understanding on the relationship between the built environment and physical activity, to identify opportunities to improve the physical activity levels of older adults, as a strategy to help reduce in social and health care.
Book of proceedings: Annual AESOP Congress, Spaces of Dialog for Places of Dignity, Lisbon, 11-14th July, 2017
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