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From the Field
Four Communities Implement Active Aging Programs
Communities throughout the United States are mobilizing to promote walking and biking across the lifespan. Efforts include community design changes, health education, walking groups, and media campaigns. This report, intended for program planners, describes four communities’ efforts to promote active aging and suggests tips for success.

As the “baby boom” generation ages, the number of Americans 65 years and older will double from 35 million to 70 million by the year 2030. Regular, moderate physical activity can extend the lifespan and prevent or slow the development of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, as well as decrease the likelihood of falls,arthritis pain, and depression.1,2

Creating Communities for Active Aging

Creating Comuunities for Active Aging helps communities develop strategic plans to promote active aging. Topics include:

  bullet involving stakeholders;
  bullet assessing barriers and opportunities to physical activity; and
  bullet developing strategies for increasing the number of older adult walkers and cyclists.

Active aging strategies range from public policy changes, to improved community design, to information and education approaches.

A second report in the Active Aging series is Program Evaluation: Measuring the Value of Active Aging. This guide offers a more in-depth focus on program evaluation to help planners and managers ascertain which components of their programs function well and which do not.

All reports are published by Partnership for Prevention in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. They are available at

Only one in three older adults engage in regular physical activity.3 In fact, older adults are the least likely of all age groups to participate in regular exercise (see Figure 1). figure 1 - click for long description

Older adults should walk briskly for at least 30 minutes on most days and do stretching and strengthening exercises once or twice weekly. While many forms of activity are valuable, seniors find walking and biking easy and enjoyable.4 Of adults age 50-79 years who exercise, 75 percent walk ten or more minutes at a time on a regular basis, and 15 percent bike consistently.5




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Main Themes
Lessons learned from the four highlighted communities include:

  • Multiple barriers deter physical activity. They range from personal challenges (e.g., physical disability or lack of time) to barriers in the community at large (e.g., lack of sidewalks or social norms that favor sedentary activities). To overcome barriers, communities need multi-faceted programs that build upon existing resources – such as skilled volunteers, civic groups, or parks.

  • Communities should adapt research-based approaches to their unique needs, including model programs from other communities. To ensure the modified programs are working as intended, communities should evaluate effectiveness.

  • Programs are most effective when multiple sectors of the community – such as health care, worksites, media, and schools – emphasize physical activity.

  • Program managers should consider multi-generational approaches. Becoming active at any age confers considerable benefits, especially in senior years. A multi-generational approach recognizes that young people who exercise are more likely to do so as adults, avoiding or deferring later health problems.

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Barriers to Physical Activity

The reasons why most older adults are under-active are varied, but often involve a complex combination of physical, social, and personal factors.

  • Social norms: Inactive lifestyles have become typical in our society, or a “social norm.” In a recent survey, nearly 40 percent of adults reported being entirely sedentary during their leisure time.6

  • Personal (i.e., individual or internal) factors: Older adults may feel out of shape, have physical disabilities, or may not want to walk alone.

  • Environmental (i.e., external) factors: While personal barriers contribute to low physical activity levels, research shows that environmental factors have a remarkable effect on activity levels.7, 8, 9, 10, 11 People are more likely to integrate physical activity into everyday life by walking or biking (instead of driving) when homes and services are in close proximity. However, many people reside in suburbs that lack sidewalks or walking paths.

  • Social interaction: People are more likely to be active if they are with other people.

The most significant and enduring improvements in physical activity levels result from influencing physical, social, and personal factors at multiple levels. Case studies from four diverse communities illustrate this fundamental principle. They provide concrete examples that communities can successfully encourage older adults to be more active. The case studies are:

  • Nashville, Tennessee: Promoting Physical Activity While “Building” the Community
    (click here)
  • Sacramento, California: Walking Together for Health (click here)
  • Wheeling, West Virginia: “Isn’t It About Time You Started Walking?” (click here)
  • Largo, Florida: Seniors and Youth Working Toward a Healthier Community (click here)

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