ENVIRONMENT: Active Ageing

Recognising a gap in information on the link between physical activity in old age and the “built” (i.e. man-made) environment, Public Health England commissioned the Housing LIN (Learning and Improvement Network), the leading voice of expert advice and support in the field of housing, care and support services, to produce a report.

Drawing on the Housing LIN’s knowledge of the sector and with input from its network members, it looks at active ageing and the different aspects of the built environment that can promote and sustain it, with examples of good and emerging practice and resources for further information.

It is intended for those working in social housing, local government, and the care and support sectors to understand their roles in developing and maintaining a built environment that contributes to active ageing. But it makes interesting reading for anyone with an interest in how our environment can either help or hinder our lives.

There’s more background to this report below – or you can read it in full on the Housing LIN website

Physical activity
Older adults are the fastest growing age group in the population in England, but are the least physically active. Their activity levels tend to decline progressively with increasing age.(5) In one survey, less than 30% of 65–74 year-olds, and less than 15% of adults aged 75 and over, reported doing any sport or exercise lasting at least 10 minutes in the previous four weeks. In terms of inequality: being female, lower education, and lower household income are all strongly associated with inactivity in older people.

Physical activity provides many physical, social and mental health benefits for older adults, and is a recognized component in the management of many chronic diseases associated with ageing in older people. For example, physical activity appears to reduce the risk of mental disorders common in older age including depression, cognitive decline, and dementia. Decreases in physical activity and the increases in body weight that often accompany ageing are linked with the deterioration of a range of physiological systems that are often critical to maintaining mobility, independent living, and overall quality of life.(10)

The built environment
The built environment encompasses the objective and perceived characteristics of the physical context in which people spend their time, including: the home, urban design, parks and amenities, crime and safety.

A well-designed built environment can enable older adults to carry out the activities of daily living and facilitate both physical and social activity. Equally, the built environment can create barriers and hazards which may deter or prevent older people from engaging actively at home or in their community.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has promoted the concepts of age-friendly cities and lifetime neighbourhoods through its Age-friendly Environments Programme. WHO describes an age-friendly city as one that:
… is an inclusive and accessible urban environment that promotes active ageing … An age-friendly city adapts its structures and services to be accessible to and inclusive of older people with varying needs and capacities.

And a lifetime neighbourhood:
… is a place where a person’s age doesn’t affect their chances of having a good quality of life. The people living there are happy to bring up children and to grow older – because the services, infrastructure, housing, and public spaces are designed to meet everyone’s needs, regardless of how old they are.