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Individual, social and area level factors associated with older people's walking: analysis of a UK household panel study (Understanding Society)

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Benjamin RigbyORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


BackgroundAmong older people, walking is a popular and prevalent activity and is key to increasing physical activity levels and resulting physical and mental health. In the context of rapidly ageing populations, it is important to better understand what factors are associated with walking among older people, based on the socioecological model of health.MethodsWe used data from Understanding Society (n:6450), a national panel survey of UK adults aged 65 years and over living in Great Britain. Slope Indices of Inequality (SII) were calculated for weekly walking hours for those according to individual, social and area characteristics. These include health, loneliness and social isolation, previous walking and activity, residential self-selection, contact with neighbours, number of close friends and social activity, and spatial area-level data describing local area crime, walkability, and proximity to retail, greenspace, and public transport amenities.ResultsResults from multivariable models indicated that poor health, particularly requiring help with walking, was the strongest predictor of weekly walking hours (SII (95% CI) comparing those needing help vs. no help: -3.58 (-4.30, -2.87)). However, both prior sporting activity (most vs. least active: 2.30 (1.75, 2.88)) and walking for pleasure (yes vs. no: 1.92 (1.32, 2.53)) were strongly associated with increased walking several years later. Similarly having close friends (most vs. fewest, 1.18 (0.72, 1.77)) and local retail destinations (any vs. none: 0.93 (0.00, 1.86)) were associated with more weekly walking.ConclusionsPast engagement in physical activity and walking for pleasure are strong predictors of walking behaviour in older people, underscoring the importance of implementing and sustaining walking interventions across the lifespan to ensure continued engagement in later years and the associated health benefits. However, poor health significantly impedes walking in this demographic, emphasising the need for interventions that offer both physical assistance and social support to promote this activity.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Olsen JR, Whitley E, Long E, Rigby BP, Macdonald L, Dibben GO, Palmer VJ, Benzeval M, Mitchell K, McCann M, Anderson M, Thomson M, Moore L, Simpson SA

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Social Science & Medicine

Year: 2024

Online publication date: 29/06/2024

Acceptance date: 27/06/2024

Date deposited: 09/07/2024

ISSN (print): 0277-9536

ISSN (electronic): 1873-5347

Publisher: Elsevier


DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2024.117083


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Funder referenceFunder name
Chief Scientist Office [grant numbers SPHSU16; SPHSU17; SPHSU18; SPHSU19]
Medical Research Council [grant numbers MC_UU_00022/1; MC_UU_00022/2; MC_UU_00022/3; MC_UU_00022/4]
the Economic and Social Research Council [ES/T002611/1]