Examining the relationships between walkability and physical activity among older persons: what about stairs?
BMC Public Health, August 2018
Nancy Edwards, Joshun Dulai
Walkability is considered an important dimension of healthy communities. However, variable associations between measures of walkability and physical activity have been observed, particularly among older persons. Given the challenges older persons may have navigating stairs on walking routes, the presence of stairs may be an explanatory factor for these mixed associations. The purposes of this scoping review were to determine whether studies examining the relationship between walkability and physical activity included items that assessed stairs and what relationships were found. Systematic reviews were identified by entering search terms into five database search engines. Eligibility criteria were: a) published between 2008 and 2017, b) examined the relationship between walkability and physical activity, c) included a focus on persons aged 65 years and older, and d) written in English. The full articles for all primary studies included in eligible systematic reviews were then retrieved. Duplicates were removed. Information about where the study took place, walkability measures used, types of walkability data obtained (objective and/or subjective) and questions asked about stairs were extracted from the full text articles. Eleven systematic reviews were identified; seven were eligible. After removing duplicates, 289 primary studies remained for review. Measures of neighborhood walkability were present in 205 studies; a minority (n = 5, 2.4%) included items about stairs. No information was obtained on the structural features of the stairs. The presence of stairs may deter older persons (and others) from walking outdoors. Standard measures to document the presence and characteristics of stairs, and sampling approaches to select stairs for assessment are needed. The inclusion of these measures would augment the utility and comparability of studies examining relationships between walkability and physical activity and better inform planning and policy decisions.
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