As illustrated in this graph, walking becomes increasingly important as a form of exercise as people age. In the 55-64 age group, nearly 40% walk for exercise, while no other form of exercise attracts more than 14% of that age group.
For a comprehensive analysis of the issues facing seniors, see our report Senior Victorians and Walking: Obstacles and opportunities.
Creating an environment that is supportive of walking for seniors should include higher surface quality of infrastructure such as footpaths and crossings, to help seniors avoid trips and falls. Internationally, up to one third of pedestrian fatalities and three quarters of injuries are due to falls in public spaces. Falls (which may also ocur in the home or other buildings) are a leading cause of death (around 30%) for people aged over 60 (Pedestrian Safety, Urban Space and Health).
Motivators for seniors walking
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence found:
- Social interaction is the main facilitator to walking for travel or leisure in older adults.
- Factors that impact on safety are the main barriers to walking for older people, with narrow pavements, obstacles and traffic key concerns which relate to a fear of falling. Councils should communicate improvements in infrastructure, access to toilets, seating and amenities.
The desire for social interaction may motivate seniors to join a walking group. This may be particularly true of women, who will often feel safer walking in a group.
As people age and become more conscious of maintaining their health, they may also become more receptive to programs that promote the health benefits of walking.
There is some promise for individualised online programs that promote physical activity by seniors - see Effects of a Web-Based Intervention on Physical Activity and Metabolism in Older Adults: Randomized Controlled Trial.
For a more general picture of the implications of an ageing population, see the Productivity Commission research paper An Ageing Australia: Preparing for the Future.