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Neighbourhood greenspace is associated with a slower decline in physical activity in older adults: A prospective cohort study

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Dalton, AM 
Jones, AP 


Maintaining physical activity in later life is important for maintaining health and function. Activity outdoors, such as walking, jogging and cycling, may provide an accessible, sociable and practical solution, but maintaining outdoor mobility may be a challenge in later life. Providing green environments which are supportive of physical activity may facilitate this, yet research into how greenspace could be best used is inconclusive. This study evaluates the role of greenspace in protecting against decline in physical activity over time in older adults.

Data from the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer Norfolk, UK, cohort 1993–2009 (N=15,672) was used. Linear regression modelling was used to examine the association between exposure to greenspace in the home neighbourhood and change in overall, recreational and outdoor physical activity measured in terms of metabolic equivalent cost (MET) in hours/week. Mediation analysis was conducted to assess if dog walking explained the relationship between greenspace and physical activity change. Models were adjusted for known and hypothesised confounders.

People living in greener neighbourhoods experienced less of a decline in physical activity than those living in less green areas. Comparing change for those living in the greenest versus least green quartiles, participants showed a difference in overall physical activity of 4.21 MET hours/week (trend P=0.001), adjusted for baseline physical activity, age, sex, BMI, social class and marital status. This difference was 4.03 MET hours/week for recreational physical activity (trend P<0.001) and 1.28 MET hours/week for outdoor physical activity (trend P=0.007). Dog walking partially mediated the association between greenspace and physical activity change, by 22.6% for overall, 28.1% for recreational and 50.0% for outdoor physical activity (all P<0.001).

Greenspace in the home neighbourhood may be protective against decline in physical activity among older people as they age. Dog walking is a potential mechanism in this relationship, and warrants further investigation as a way of maintaining physical activity in later life.



physical activity, greenspace exposure, older adults, dog walking

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SSM - Population Health

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Medical Research Council (MR/K025147/1)
Medical Research Council (MC_UU_12015/1)
Medical Research Council (MC_UU_12015/4)
MRC (MC_PC_13046)
MRC (MC_PC_13048)
Medical Research Council (MR/K023187/1)
Medical Research Council (MC_U106179474)
This work was supported by the Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), a UKCRC Public Health Research Centre of Excellence. Funding from Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Medical Research Council, the National Institute for Health Research, and the Wellcome Trust, under the auspices of the UK Clinical Research Collaboration, is gratefully acknowledged. The corresponding author was supported by the Medical Research Council, grant number MR/K025147/1. The study was also supported by the Medical Research Council, grant numbers MC_UU_12015/1 and MC_UU_12015/4.