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Safe community designs may encourage seniors to stay active

September 26, 2012

Active living is important to people of all ages, but it is especially crucial for older adults, for whom it is a cornerstone of healthy aging. Some areas may not make staying active as easy as it could be, but new research says that placing an emphasis on safety can help seniors enjoy the benefits of an active lifestyle.

The study, Active Design Supplement: Promoting Safety, was conducted by scientists from the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy, and was aimed at providing community and building designers with some guidelines on how to keep residents safe while still encouraging exercise. In particular, builders focusing on creating a trail or pathway for seniors with mobility problems should be equipped with everything from signs to pavement markings.

"By incorporating injury prevention strategies into projects of all scales, design professionals can realize buildings and neighborhoods that seamlessly integrate more healthful and active living with attention to design excellence, sustainability, and safety," said Joseph Aliotta, president of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Avoiding injury is especially important for seniors. Approximately one-third of adults over 65 experience a fall each year, and they are the leading cause of injury-related death among the senior population.

Having a safe outlet to stay physically active is especially important in light of a recent study that found a neighborhood's "walkability" may actually have a significant impact on a senior's risk of developing diabetes. The study looked at more than 1 million Canadians and found that people who lived in neighborhoods that scored low on criteria such as proximity to stores, connectivity of streets and population density, had a 50 percent greater risk of diabetes.