Exploring the interaction between urban environments and physical and cognitive health
Population ageing and urbanisation are two major global and national demographic trends. These are important phenomena as there is growing evidence that the urban built environment plays a key role in shaping physical activity behaviour. As a result of this evidence, national and international urban and health policy documents have identified environmental changes as effective strategies to create healthier societies.
Older adults are the segment of the population likely to be most affected by the features of their local environment due to mobility, independence and social contacts can being greatly limited by a poorly-designed community. A common desire of older adults is to age in their own neighbourhood, but this requires community design that support activity and mobility across the various stages of the ageing process. It is, thus, important to identify key physical and social elements of urban environments that promote an active lifestyle in the mid-aged, fully-functional workforce as well as the older, disadvantaged segment of residents with restricted mobility. This knowledge can inform equitable, universal activity-friendly community design suitable to all age groups.
Since the range of environmental exposures within single geographical locations is limited, work in this area needs to be based on an analysis and synthesis of data from a large variety of geographical regions. Accurate effect sizes and dose-response relationships are needed to judge the relative importance of aspects of community design and provide useful guidance to decision makers and designers who can translate research into policy and practice.
Using data from national and international studies, the main objectives of this research stream are to:
- Identify types and mixes of destinations and facilities that support engagement in physical, social and cognitive activities across mid-to-late adulthood
- Identify socio-demographic factors and characteristics of the urban environment that determine the likelihood of visitation and use of destinations and facilities
- Characterise activity-friendly spaces for people with chronic health conditions
- Characterise activity-friendly spaces for older immigrants of diverse ethnic background
- Characterise dementia-friendly urban environments
- Identify features of urban environments promoting cognitive health (i.e., reducing the risk of cognitive decline and dementia)
- Develop and validate novel methodologies for the analysis of how exposure to urban environments influence activity patterns