Physical exercise, particularly walking, benefits healthy ageing. Understanding the environmental circumstances in which exercise occurs is crucial to the promotion of physical activity in older age. Most studies have focused on the structural dimensions of environments that may foster walking; however, individual differences in how older people perceive and interact with outdoor spaces need further attention. This study explored the cognitive and sensory dimensions of preferences of outdoor spaces for walking.
We invited 112 healthy community-dwelling people aged =60 years to complete a survey to test associations between walking preferences and cognitive/sensory vulnerability. A subsample also completed focus groups/walk along interviews to explore qualitatively the cognitive/sensory reasons for outdoor walking preferences.
While most participants indicated a preference for outdoor spaces that offer variety and greenery, we observed a complex association between individual cognitive/sensory needs (stimulation seeking vs. avoidance), preferences for social interactions, and the place of residence urbanity level. Furthermore, walking preferences varied based on the purpose of the walk (recreation vs. transportation).
Our findings support an ecological approach to understanding determinants of physical activity in older age, which consider the interaction between individual cognitive processing and the environment.