How ‘transport walking’ could help some older adults live longer

May 01, 2024
The next time you're considering hopping in the car, maybe give those walking shoes a chance instead – your health could thank you for it! Source: Getty Images.

Remember all those times you’ve been encouraged to ditch the car for the sake of the environment? Well, it turns out there might be an unexpected bonus to that eco-friendly choice: it could actually be good for your health too.

New research led by Monash University suggests that older adults who opt for walking for public transport instead of driving, even just once a week, may actually live longer than those who don’t.

Published in BMJ Public Health, the study focused on transport-related walking, such as strolling to a doctor’s appointment or hitting the local shops, rather than relying on motorised transport.

Transport walking is undertaken as a means of transport and is different from other types, such as recreational walking, which was not assessed in the study.

In a group of participants with an average age of 75, those who walked for transport at least once a week were found to have about a 25 per cent lower risk of all-cause mortality compared to non-walkers.

The study, which involved 11,539 initially healthy Australians aged 70 and over, shed light on the importance of creating neighbourhoods that encourage walking. After all, safer streets and accessible pathways make it easier for everyone to get moving.

Participants self-reported their frequency of transport-related walking as either: never, rarely/once a week, more than once a week, or every day.

Almost half (44.1 per cent) engaged in transport-walking every day, 31.5 per cent more than once a week, 21.7 per cent rarely/once a week, and 2.7 per cent never did it.

Compared to those who never walked for transport, the risk of all-cause mortality was shown to be lower for those who walked for transport: rarely or once a week (down 27 per cent), more than once a week, (24 per cent), and every day (26 per cent).

First author and Monash University School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine PhD candidate Shivangi Shah pointed out that while previous research highlighted the benefits of walking for younger and middle-aged adults, there wasn’t much info on how it affects older folks.

But now we know – every step counts, especially as we age.

“It’s important to engage in any type of physical activity, and building muscle strength and healthy bones through physical activity are especially important as we age to help improve our balance and prevent falls,” she said.

“Our results suggest that walking for transport will have health benefits for older people.

“Any move is a good move. Even one extra minute is better than nothing. But physical activity does need to be tailored to each person’s capacity. If you have any doubts, talk to your GP.”

Senior author Associate Professor Danijela Gasevic, from Monash University’s School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine and the University of Edinburgh highlighted the broader benefits of walking, from environmental to social, stressing the need for supportive infrastructure to encourage more walking-friendly communities.

“Walking and physical activity generally are really important for our health and wellbeing, they have environmental and economic benefits, and they can help build social and community connections,” Professor Gasevic said.

“However, to walk more for transport, we really need good infrastructure for walking – paths and roads connecting places and spaces; and safe environments.”

Co-author Professor David Dunstan, who is Head of the Baker-Deakin Department of Lifestyle and Diabetes at the Baker Institute and Deakin University, underscored the importance of movement for overall health, emphasising the diverse benefits of staying active throughout the day.

“Our bodies need to accumulate as much movement in as many ways as possible on a daily basis, since it is well known that this movement can enhance many of the body’s regulatory processes, such as blood flow and the control of blood sugars,” Professor Dunstan said.

So, next time you’re considering hopping in the car, maybe give those walking shoes a chance instead – your health will thank you for it!

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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