Researchers at the University of Kansas have linked living in a walkable community with better cognitive functioning among the elderly. Their study, presented at the 2014 meeting of the Gerontological Society of America determined that “neighborhoods that motivate walking can stave off cognitive decline in older adults.” Watts, one of the study authors reports that “’Features of a neighborhood that encourage walking for transportation require having someplace worth walking to, like neighbors’ houses, stores and parks.’ Watts said neighborhoods that inspire walking for leisure also are full of pleasant things to look at, like walking trails or shade provided by trees. Also, such neighborhoods should make people feel secure on foot. ‘For older adults, safety is a key issue in walkability,’ she said. ‘That includes things like traffic lights that give ample time to cross, sidewalks that are in good repair, and benches to stop and rest.’” In addition, “intricate community layouts might help to keep cognition sharp, rather than serve as a source of confusion in older adults. ‘There seems to be a component of a person’s mental representation of the spatial environment, for example, the ability to picture the streets like a mental map,’ Watts said. ‘Complex environments may require more complex mental processes to navigate.’” Statistical techniques were used to eliminate gender, education, and wealth as explanations for the effect found.
“Research Shows Easy-to-Walk Communities Can Blunt Cognitive Decline.” 2014. Press release, University of Kansas, http://www.news.ku.edu.