The Built Environment and Physical Activity in Aging
The University of Washington is recruiting individuals who use a cane, walker, or wheelchair for participation in a study that examines the relationship between physical activity and the built environment. Click on the flyer at right to find out more about the study, and whether you or someone you know might qualify.
We know that regular physical activity (PA) is good for people who have limited physical abilities. Those with a disability are at risk for a variety of health conditions which PA can help control or prevent. These include osteoarthritis, decreased fitness, weight gain and obesity, decreased quality of life, increased functional impairment, and depression. The 2008 physical activity guidelines recommend that older adults try to obtain 150 minutes of physical activity per week (any activity that lasts 10 minutes or more counts towards this recommendation). Fewer adults with disabilities meet PA guidelines (37.7%) compared with those without disabilities (49.4%). As adults with disabilities age, they become less active.
Being able to get outside in the local neighborhood to do activities such as walk or wheel for recreation, or to get to public transportation, a store, or a friend's home helps people stay active and meet the PA guidelines. However, features of neighborhoods can make it difficult to get around by walking or wheeling and limit the ability to stay active for those with declining function or mobility impairments. For example, someone could live across the street from a grocery store but be unable to get there by walking or wheeling because there is a busy street, without a well-marked and safe street crossing, between their dwelling and the store. That person may choose, then, to drive to a grocery store because of the lack of access. This means they lose the opportunity to add some physical activity into their day. Even though walking or wheeling to a store may only be 10 minutes of physical activity, this adds up over time and can be quite meaningful to keeping people mobile and in better health.
When the built environment is supportive, individuals can use the outdoors for exercise and useful purposes (like getting to stores or services by walking or wheeling). They can also better access exercise facilities. These small amounts of physical activity add up over time and can be important to health. Additionally, research shows that being outdoors in natural environments is good for us.
We are about to begin a study at the University of Washington called the Built Environment, Accessibility, and Mobility Study (BEAMS). In BEAMS, we will try to better understand what neighborhood features affect people's ability to be active in their neighborhood as they age. We will be focusing on people aging with mobility impairments. In our study, we will be conducting interviews in the homes of people aging with mobility impairments. We will use the information to develop a survey to measure features of neighborhoods. The survey will be used in future research so we can better understand how the built environment impacts active aging for people with mobility impairments. We also hope to help communities develop better neighborhoods that promote activity for everyone. Ultimately, we hope to help people who are aging with limited physical ability to stay active and become more active.
If you would like more information about our study, or if you are interested in participating, please go to the University of Washington Health Promotion Research Center website.