Objectives: Utilitarian and recreational walking both contribute to physical activity. Yet walking for these two purposes may be different behaviors. We sought to provide operational definitions of utilitarian and recreational walking and to objectively measure their behavioral, spatial, and temporal differences in order to inform transportation and public health policies and interventions.
Methods: Data were collected 2008-2009 from 651 Seattle-King County residents, wearing an accelerometer and a GPS unit, and filling-in a travel diary for 7 days. Walking activity bouts were classified as utilitarian or recreational based on whether walking had a destination or not. Differences between the two walking purposes were analyzed, adjusting for the nested structure of walking activity within participants.
Results: Of the 4,905 observed walking bouts, 87.4% were utilitarian and 12.6% recreational walking. Utilitarian walking bouts were 45% shorter in duration (-12.1 min) and 9% faster in speed (+0.3km/h) than recreational walking bouts. Recreational walking occurred more frequently in the home neighborhood and was not associated with recreational land uses. Utilitarian walking occurred in areas having higher residential, employment, and street density, lower residential property value, higher area percentage of mixed-use neighborhood destinations, lower percentage of parks/trails, and lower average topographic slope than recreational walking.
Conclusion: Utilitarian and recreational walking are substantially different in terms of frequency, speed, duration, location, and related built environment. Policies that promote walking should adopt type-specific strategies. The high occurrence of recreational walking near home highlights the importance of the home neighborhood for this activity.
Keywords: GPS; accelerometer; active transportation; home and non-home based walking; pedestrian.