Objectives: To investigate whether, and to what extent, perceived barriers to neighbourhood walking (BTNW) may be associated with physical activity levels.
Design: Prospective survey with 12 month follow-up.
Setting & participants: 750 people attending walking schemes throughout England and Scotland, 551 completed the follow-up.
Independent variables: Demographic characteristics, examples of possible ‘external’ barriers to walking e.g. ‘worries about personal safety’, and one item concerning ill-health.
Main outcome measures: MET hours’ walking and overall physical activity in the preceding week.
Results: Baseline and follow-up demographic characteristics were similar and physical activity levels generally high. Leisure walking changed little over 12 months, while total physical activity levels reduced significantly (p<0.001). External BTNW cited between baseline and 12 months increased significantly (p<0.001); only ‘worries about personal safety’ reduced. A significant association was found between citing a health-related BTNW and the total number of external BTNW that were reported at baseline. The strength of this association increased over 12 months. Neither changes in reporting external BTNW that occurred over 12 months (increased versus decreased, versus unchanged) nor changes in the presence of a health-related BTNW were significantly related to levels of leisure walking and overall physical activity (MET hours in the preceding week) over the same period.
Conclusion: Amongst older people who attended walking schemes, having a health problem that restricted walking had a detrimental influence on people’s perceptions about external BTNW, which increased over time. Actual levels of walking and overall physical activity levels did not appear to be significantly affected by this.
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