Open Access Open Badges Research

Measured and perceived environmental characteristics are related to accelerometer defined physical activity in older adults

Scott J Strath1*, Michael J Greenwald2, Raymond Isaacs3, Teresa L Hart1, Elizabeth K Lenz4, Christopher J Dondzila1 and Ann M Swartz1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Kinesiology, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI, USA

2 Urban Design 4 Health, Inc., Seattle, WA, USA. Current: Lane Council of Governments, Eugene, OR, USA

3 School of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI, USA

4 The College at Brockport, State University of New York, Brockport, NY, USA

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2012, 9:40  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-9-40

Published: 3 April 2012



Few studies have investigated both the self-perceived and measured environment with objectively determined physical activity in older adults. Accordingly, the aim of this study was to examine measured and perceived environmental associations with physical activity of older adults residing across different neighborhood types.


One-hundred and forty-eight older individuals, mean age 64.3 ± 8.4, were randomly recruited from one of four neighborhoods that were pre-determined as either having high- or low walkable characteristics. Individual residences were geocoded and 200 m network buffers established. Both objective environment audit, and self-perceived environmental measures were collected, in conjunction with accelerometer derived physical activity behavior. Using both perceived and objective environment data, analysis consisted of a macro-level comparison of physical activity levels across neighborhood, and a micro-level analysis of individual environmental predictors of physical activity levels.


Individuals residing in high-walkable neighborhoods on average engaged in 11 min of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day more than individuals residing in low-walkable neighborhoods. Both measured access to non-residential destinations (b = .11, p < .001) and self-perceived access to non-residential uses (b = 2.89, p = .031) were significant predictors of time spent in moderate to vigorous physical activity. Other environmental variables significantly predicting components of physical activity behavior included presence of measured neighborhood crime signage (b = .4785, p = .031), measured street safety (b = 26.8, p = .006), and perceived neighborhood satisfaction (b = .5.8, p = .003).


Older adult residents who live in high-walkable neighborhoods, who have easy and close access to nonresidential destinations, have lower social dysfunction pertinent to crime, and generally perceive the neighborhood to a higher overall satisfaction are likely to engage in higher levels of physical activity behavior. Efforts aimed at promoting more walkable neighborhoods could influence activity levels in older adults.