Walking offers a plethora of health and functional benefits to elderly women (defined as women aged 75 years and over). This thesis proposes, however, that walking outside the home can potentially make a much broader contribution to elderly women ageing well, in addition to the accepted health and functional benefits. A mixed methods research design is used to explore this proposition in greater detail. The quantitative component of the research employed nationally representative data sets from Australian cross-sectional and longitudinal surveys and the qualitative component used semi-structured interviews to explore the meaning and experience of walking among elderly women who self-identified as regular walkers in Canberra, Australia. The quantitative findings are reported in three separate papers and the qualitative findings are reported in a separate chapter in the thesis. As part of the mixed methods approach, the findings from all sources were integrated and analysed and are summarised below. 1. Elderly women who live alone (48% in 2014-15) were more likely to walk than those who lived with others, and walking as little as one hour per week (i.e., less than the current recommendation of 150 minutes per week) contributed to maintaining mobility as elderly women aged. Walking had no effect on driving status, although experience as an elderly walker may play a role in easing the transition to cessation of driving. 2. Cardiovascular disease and diabetes, despite their high prevalence in elderly women (71% had one or both in 2014-15),did not reduce the likelihood of walking as older women aged. Health improvement or opportunities to socialise were not strong motivators to walk among the elderly women interviewed; whereas habit and pleasure may be more important. 3. The habit, derived from many years of prior walking, and the pleasure of walking appeared to mitigate neighbourhood barriers (such as low density suburban design, and hilly and uneven terrain) and fear of falling among elderly women who regularly walked. Drawing on the integrated findings, as well as models of positive ageing described in the literature, and selected theories of ageing and theories of health behaviour, a psychosocial model of the contribution of walking to elderly women ageing well was developed. The conceptual model proposes that: Regular walking has the potential to enable elderly women to age well through: enhancing neighbourhood connectedness (both social and environmental),fostering independence through maintaining mobility, facilitating walking capability, and, for some, continuing their identities as walkers as they age. The findings from the individual research projects make an original contribution to knowledge, and the development of a conceptual model that captures the psycho-social elements of walking to elderly women ageing well contributes to policy development. The main contribution to public health practice is not new but emphasises the need to encourage older women to walk in their neighbourhoods, and elsewhere, before they become elderly women. A habit of walking established at a younger age provides the means to overcome the inevitable challenges of walking as one ages, while also offering a source of pleasure and a means of transport, in addition to the numerous established health and functional benefits.
|Date of Award
|Yohannes Kinfu (Supervisor), Tom Cochrane (Supervisor) & Rachel Davey (Supervisor)