Convergence of features in the built environment to promote walking in older adults and dog owners: a systematic review

Shealy, C., Pearce, A.

Background and Purpose

In the United States, older adults are generally less active, contributing to the high prevalence of obesity, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Features of the built environment (e.g., sidewalk width, number of benches, access to amenities) can encourage more physical activity, especially among older adults. Dog ownership is also known to motivate physical activity in this group. However, literature to date primarily focuses on features of the built environment that are influential to general walking and dog walking separately.


To determine which features are mutually beneficial to both adults and dog-related activities, existing literature was synthesized through a systematic review comparing and contrasting relevant design features of outdoor public spaces that encourage physical activity among adults and dog walkers.


Peer-reviewed literature was searched using 16 standardized terms and the following inclusion criteria: 1) published between 2003- 2018; 2) study population of adults or older adults; 3) and included built environment features affecting general and dog walking. 357 articles were screened and 15 systematic reviews and 20 original studies were included. The review articles included features of the built environment influential to physical activity in adults and the original articles included features of the built environment influential to dog-related activities and walking among dog owners.


Data synthesis is ongoing, but preliminary findings suggest the value placed on features like recreational facilities and access to shops are appealing to older adults whereas fencing, waste cans, and off-leash parks appear more prominently among studies about dog walkers. Surprisingly, just because features are dog-supportive does not mean they encourage walking once at a park. Several studies that emerged from the search process found that dog parks, off-leash areas, and enclosures are associated with increased sedentary behaviour among owners and do not provide adequate outlets for walking. Namely, not all built environment features intended for dogs align with increased walking. Blending features from the built environment that encourage walking, like proximity and access to destinations and connected footpaths, and also accommodate dogs may lead to convergence with greater benefits for physical activity.


Ultimately, the goal is more organization of built environment features pertinent to older adults and dog-related activities. Understanding is lacking about how features are prioritized. Therefore, the results of this study will be used in a Delphi study to gain consensus about relative importance of various features across urban planners, gerontologists, and veterinarians.

Implications for Practice and Policy

Identifying features of the built environment with mutual appeal for older adults and dog owners offers planners the opportunity to design more inclusively for multiple species. Creating more conducive spaces will serve as a viable approach to increasing activity levels among older adults.