Objective: Utilitarian walking (e.g., walking for transport) and leisure walking (e.g., walking for health/recreation) are encouraged to promote health, yet few studies have explored specific preferences for these two forms of physical activity or factors that impact such preferences. A quasi-experimental crossover design was used to evaluate how training underactive midlife and older adults in each type of walking impacted total steps taken and how it was linked to their subsequent choice of walking types.
Methods: Participants (N = 16) were midlife and older adults (M age = 64 ± 8 years) who were mostly women (81%) and white (75%). To control for order effects, participants were randomized to instruction in either utilitarian or leisure walking for 2 weeks and then the other type for 2 weeks. Participants then entered a 2-week "free choice" phase in which they chose any mixture of the walking types. Outcome variables included walking via OMRON pedometer and the ratio of utilitarian versus leisure walking during the free-choice phase. Participants completed surveys about their neighborhood (NEWS) and daily travel to multiple locations.
Results: Instruction in leisure-only, utilitarian-only, and a freely chosen mixture of the two each resulted in significant increases in steps taken relative to baseline (ps < 0.05). Having to go to multiple locations daily and traveling greater distances to locations were associated with engagement in more utilitarian walking. In contrast, good walking paths, neighborhood aesthetics, easy access to exercise facilities, and perceiving easier access to neighborhood services were associated with more leisure walking.
Conclusions: Results from this pilot study suggest that midlife and older adults may most easily meet guidelines through either leisure only or a mixture of leisure and utilitarian walking, and tailored suggestions based on the person's neighborhood may be useful.