How different are objective operationalizations of walkability for older adults compared to the general population? A systematic review



Abstract Background Walking is an essential activity for everyone and for older adults in particular, given that it is the most accessible form of physical activity and one of the healthiest transportation modes. Understanding how walkability (the potential of the environment to enable and/or encourage walking) has been objectively measured and analyzed for older adults is critical to create more inclusive, healthy, and sustainable environments and to promote healthy aging. Despite the numerous reviews on physical activity among older adults and its relationship with the built environment, the literature still lacks comparison reviews focusing specifically on objective operationalizations of walkability for older adults vs. the general population. Methods We conducted a systematic review of 146 empirical studies that measured walkability objectively in relation to walking-related outcomes. We compared studies focused on older adults (n = 24) and the general population (n = 122). Content analysis included the characteristics of the study design, walkability measures, spatial extent, and associations found between walkability and walking-related outcomes. Results In both groups of publications, the majority of studies were conducted in the US, Canada, and Europe, and largely in high-income countries. They were mostly published in health-related journals and used cross-sectional designs, operationalized walkability by using indexes, employed self-reported measures for walking-related outcomes, and found positive associations between walkability and walking outcomes. However, we observed some differences among studies focusing on older adults. Compared to studies focusing on the general population, a larger proportion of studies on older adults was conducted in the Middle East and Asia, and they used longitudinal designs, mixed methods to measure walking-related outcomes, variables related with land-use characteristics, safety from traffic and crime, and greenery, and a larger proportion found positive, as well as no associations between walkability and walking-related outcomes. Conclusion Although there is a promising increase in interest in older adults-focused walkability studies in the last decade, there is still a need for more studies focusing on different settings, using wider spatial extents, longitudinal designs, objective or mixed methods to collect outcome data, and specific variables and/or specially created indexes for older adults and for settings.
Date made available16 Aug 2022

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