Safe, Affordable, Convenient: Environmental Features of Malls and Other Public Spaces Used by Older Adults for Walking

in Journal of Physical Activity and Health
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Background:

Midlife and older adults use shopping malls for walking, but little research has examined mall characteristics that contribute to their walkability.

Methods:

We used modified versions of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)-Healthy Aging Research Network (HAN) Environmental Audit and the System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC) tool to systematically observe 443 walkers in 10 shopping malls. We also observed 87 walkers in 6 community-based nonmall/nongym venues where older adults routinely walked for physical activity.

Results:

All venues had public transit stops and accessible parking. All malls and 67% of nonmalls had wayfinding aids, and most venues (81%) had an established circuitous walking route and clean, well-maintained public restrooms (94%). All venues had level floor surfaces, and one-half had benches along the walking route. Venues varied in hours of access, programming, tripping hazards, traffic control near entrances, and lighting.

Conclusions:

Despite diversity in location, size, and purpose, the mall and nonmall venues audited shared numerous environmental features known to promote walking in older adults and few barriers to walking. Future research should consider programmatic features and outreach strategies to expand the use of malls and other suitable public spaces for walking.

King (dkking@uaa.alaska.edu) and L Allen are with the Center for Behavioral Health Research and Services, University of Alaska, Anchorage, AK. P Allen is with the George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University, St. Louis, MO. Jones is with the Dept of Orthopaedics and Division of Physical Therapy, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV. Marquez and Janicek are with the Dept of Kinesiology and Nutrition, University of Illinois at Chicago. Brown is with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA. Rosenberg is with the Dept of Physical Activity Research, Group Health Research Institute, Seattle, WA. Belza is with the Health Promotion Research Center, University of Washington, Seattle, WA.