Open Access Research article

Physical environmental factors related to walking and cycling in older adults: the Belgian aging studies

Jelle Van Cauwenberg1*, Peter Clarys1, Ilse De Bourdeaudhuij2, Veerle Van Holle2, Dominique Verté3, Nico De Witte34, Liesbeth De Donder3, Tine Buffel35, Sarah Dury3 and Benedicte Deforche12

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Human Biometry and Biomechanics, Faculty of Physical Education and Physical Therapy, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Pleinlaan 2, B-1050 Brussels, Belgium

2 Department of Movement and Sport Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Ghent University, Watersportlaan 2, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium

3 Department of Adult Educational Sciences, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Pleinlaan 2, B-1050 Brussels, Belgium

4 University College Ghent, Keramiekstraat 78-80, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium

5 Fund for Scientific Research Flanders Belgium, Egmontstraat 5, B-1000 Brussels, Belgium

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Public Health 2012, 12:142  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-142

Published: 23 February 2012



Socio-ecological models emphasize the relationship between the physical environment and physical activity (PA). However, knowledge about this relationship in older adults is limited. Therefore, the present study aims to investigate the relationship between area of residence (urban, semi-urban or rural) and older adults' walking and cycling for transportation and recreation. Additionally, relationships between several physical environmental factors and walking and cycling and possible moderating effects of area of residence, age and gender were studied.


Data from 48,879 Flemish older adults collected in 2004-2010 through peer research were analyzed. Walking, cycling and environmental perceptions were assessed using self-administered questionnaires. The Study Service of the Flemish Government provided objective data on municipal characteristics. Multilevel logistic regression analyses were applied.


Urban participants were more likely to walk daily for transportation compared to rural (OR = 1.43; 95% CI = 1.22, 1.67) and semi-urban participants (OR = 1.32; 95% CI = 1.13, 1.54). Urban participants were less likely to cycle daily for transportation compared to semi-urban participants (OR = 0.72; 95% CI = 0.56, 0.92). Area of residence was unrelated to weekly recreational walking/cycling. Perceived short distances to services (ORs ranging from 1.04 to 1.19) and satisfaction with public transport (ORs ranging from 1.07 to 1.13) were significantly positively related to all walking/cycling behaviors. Feelings of unsafety was negatively related to walking for transportation (OR = 0.93, 95% CI = 0.91, 0.95) and recreational walking/cycling (OR = 0.95, 95% CI = 0.92, 0.97). In females, it was also negatively related to cycling for transportation (OR = 0.94, 95% CI = 0.90, 0.98).


Urban residents were more likely to walk for transportation daily compared to semi-urban and rural residents. Daily cycling for transportation was less prevalent among urban compared to semi-urban residents. Access to destinations appeared to be important for promoting both walking and cycling for transportation and recreation across all demographic subgroups. Additionaly, feelings of unsafety were associated with lower rates of walking for transportation and walking/cycling for recreation in all subgroups and cycling for transportation in females. No clear patterns emerged for other environmental factors.