BACKGROUND: Supporting older adults to engage in physically active lifestyles requires supporting environments. Walkable environments may increase walking activity in older adults, but evidence for this subgroup is scarce, and longitudinal studies are lacking. This study therefore examined whether changes in neighbourhood walkability were associated with changes in walking activity in older adults, and whether this association differed by individual-level characteristics and by contextual conditions beyond the built environment.
METHODS: Data from 668 participants (57.8-93.4 years at baseline) across three waves (2005/06, 2008/09 and 2011/12) of the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam (LASA) were used. These individuals did not relocate during follow-up. Self-reported outdoor walking activity in minutes per week was assessed using the LASA Physical Activity Questionnaire. Composite exposure measures of neighbourhood walkability (range: 0 (low)-100 (high)) within 500-m Euclidean buffer zones around each participant's residential address were constructed by combining objectively measured high-resolution Geographic Information System data on population density, retail and service destination density, land use mix, street connectivity, green space density, and sidewalk density. Fixed effects linear regression analyses were applied, adjusted for relevant time-varying confounders.
RESULTS: Changes in neighbourhood walkability were not statistically significantly associated with changes in walking activity in older adults (β500m = - 0.99, 95% CI = -6.17-4.20). The association of changes in neighbourhood walkability with changes in walking activity did not differ by any of the individual-level characteristics (i.e., age, sex, educational level, cognitive impairment, mobility disability, and season) and area-level characteristics (i.e., road traffic noise, air pollution, and socioeconomic status).
CONCLUSIONS: This study did not show evidence for an association between changes in neighbourhood walkability and changes in walking activity in older adults. If neighbourhood walkability and walking activity are causally linked, then changes in neighbourhood walkability between 2005/06 and 2011/12 might have been not substantial enough to produce meaningful changes in walking activity in older adults.