Physical activity in the elderly and its relationship to the built environment and cardiovascular health


The aging population in Canada and other industrialized nations is on the rise. The associated costs of old age can create an economic health-care burden due to the increase in disease occurrence later in life (Taylor & Johnson, 2008). By increasing physical activity, this disease occurrence can be reduced thus reducing its associated costs and delay or prevent many of the changes that occur with aging (Taylor & Johnson, 2008). Despite its proven benefits, trends in physical activity (PA) decrease with age (Schutzer & Graves, 2004). In some communities, the physical layout of the built environment can create barriers to exercise. A community that opts for a healthier, active design, such as more sidewalks and walking paths to amenities, sets the stage for its residents to be more active and maintain healthier lifestyles (Heart and Stroke Foundation, 2010).


The objectives of this study were:

  1. To determine if there is a difference in the cardiovascular health of two elderly (>65) samples with differing physical activity levels.
  2. Investigate factors of the perceived environment that influence physical activity.
  3. Speculate on improvements to this ongoing study so that an eventual relationship can be drawn between the environment, cardiovascular health and physical activity levels in the elderly.

A relationship between the built environment, cardiovascular health and physical activity will create the basis for more population-based strategies in Canada to improve physical activity in the elderly. By improving physical activity levels, elderly persons can improve their quality of life and decrease their incidence of disease.

Summary of findings

Twenty-eight volunteers were recruited from the Kitchener-Waterloo area and from the Waterloo Research in Aging Pool. A questionnaire was used to assess demographic variables such as age, sex, education level and health conditions. The participant’s height and weight were measured and used to determine BMI. Abdominal obesity was determined by using anthropometric assessment, more specifically waist to hip ratio (Gruson et al., 2010). The number of steps taken was measured objectively with the use of a pedometer (Sensewear ®). Heart rate, blood pressure, and arterial stiffness were measured. Perceptions of the built environment were assessed under five categories: availability, usage, safety, aesthetics and social factors.

Results appear to show that the amount of physical activity (measured by steps/day) was not related to the cardiovascular measures of systolic and diastolic blood pressure, heart rate or arterial stiffness. Additionally, the neighbourhood categories of availability, usage, safety and aesthetics were not related to the number of steps/day, nor did their perceptions differ for active vs. low active participants. The more active individuals (in terms of steps/day) perceived their environment as being less social and those that perceive their environment as more social are less active.

Project members: 
Undergraduate Fellow
Faculty Supervisor
Project time line: 
September, 2010 to December, 2010
Last updated: January 08, 2017