For some adults, community mobility becomes difficult as they age because their physical or cognitive health declines, which affects their quality of life and also becomes a social burden. Researchers from the University of Tsukuba have shown that elderly people’s willingness to travel longer distances by walking or cycling can help prevent early functional disability and mortality.
In a study recently published in Health and Country, researchers developed a model relating death and functional disability rates in an older adult population to the distances they considered acceptable to walk or bike for typical outings in their community. They found that older adults who were comfortable traveling only short distances—500 m or less for walking or 1 km or less for cycling—had higher risks of functional disability and mortality.
Forms of active travel, such as walking and cycling, contribute to maintaining adequate levels of physical activity with age, and because these forms of travel also facilitate other activities such as social visits or grocery shopping, we reasoned that the distances that adults elderly are considered eligible to travel. by these means it may be a useful proxy.”
Okura Tomohiro, Professor, Lead Study Author
To determine whether this proxy information might be related to future disability or death, the research team surveyed a large sample of adults (residents of Kasama City, Ibaraki, Japan) aged 65 years or older in 2013 to obtain basic data. The team also collected follow-up data over a nearly 8-year period. They then used this data to create several models, exploring the potential effects of physical characteristics such as age and sex, basic travel preferences, and geographic characteristics such as terrain and population.
“For a meaningful model,” says Professor Okura Tomohiro, “it was necessary for us to capture data, not only on a wide variety of characteristics – to account for inherent differences in an older adult population – but also on a long enough period of time – to allow the natural changes of life to evolve.”
The study’s findings may help researchers and policymakers better understand the impact of some of the challenges individuals experience as they age. This knowledge can be used to develop ways to better assist vulnerable older individuals or to design services to improve community access for older adults.
Tsunoda, K., et al. (2022) Acceptable walking and cycling distances and functional disability and mortality in older Japanese adults: An 8-year follow-up study. Health and Country. doi.org/10.1016/j.healthplace.2022.102952.