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Open Access Research

Characteristics of residential areas and transportational walking among frail and non-frail Dutch elderly: does the size of the area matter?

Astrid Etman1*, Carlijn BM Kamphuis1, Richard G Prins1, Alex Burdorf1, Frank H Pierik2 and Frank J van Lenthe1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health, Erasmus University MC, P.O. Box 2040, Rotterdam, CA 3000, The Netherlands

2 Department of Urban Environment and Safety, TNO, P.O. Box 80015, Utrecht, TA 3508, The Netherlands

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International Journal of Health Geographics 2014, 13:7  doi:10.1186/1476-072X-13-7

Published: 4 March 2014

Abstract

Background

A residential area supportive for walking may facilitate elderly to live longer independently. However, current evidence on area characteristics potentially important for walking among older persons is mixed. This study hypothesized that the importance of area characteristics for transportational walking depends on the size of the area characteristics measured, and older person’s frailty level.

Methods

The study population consisted of 408 Dutch community-dwelling persons aged 65 years and older participating in the Elderly And their Neighborhood (ELANE) study in 2011–2012. Characteristics (aesthetics, functional features, safety, and destinations) of areas surrounding participants’ residences ranging from a buffer of 400 meters up to 1600 meters (based on walking path networks) were linked with self-reported transportational walking using linear regression analyses. In addition, interaction effects between frailty level and area characteristics were tested.

Results

An increase in functional features (e.g. presence of sidewalks and benches) within a 400 meter buffer, in aesthetics (e.g. absence of litter and graffiti) within 800 and 1200 meter buffers, and an increase of one destination per buffer of 400 and 800 meters were associated with more transportational walking, up to 2.89 minutes per two weeks (CI 1.07-7.32; p < 0.05). No differences were found between frail and non-frail elderly.

Conclusions

Better functional and aesthetic features, and more destinations in the residential area of community-dwelling older persons were associated with more transportational walking. The importance of area characteristics for transportational walking differs by area size, but not by frailty level. Neighbourhood improvements may increase transportational walking among older persons, thereby contributing to living longer independently.

Keywords:
Physical environment; Neighbourhood; Elderly; Walking; Transport-related PA