Walking For Errands Can Be Deadly

People 65 and older are at greater risk for falls when they’re walking for practical purposes, as opposed to walking for exercise or recreation, according to a new study.

The findings were published in the American Journal of Public Health.

“Older adults have two times the risk of falling while walking out of necessity than walking for recreation, and four times greater risk of injury from a fall on a sidewalk than in a recreational area,” said Wenjun Li, PhD, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Preventive and Behavioral Health at UMass Medical School and lead author of the study.

In reaching their conclusion, Li and co-authors at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), Harvard Medical School and UMass Boston used data from the Maintenance of Balance, Independent Living, Intellect and Zest in the Elderly of Boston Study to look at the link between falls and different kinds of walking.

Their analysis showed that older adults in poorer neighborhoods do more walking for appointments or errands. They also have high rates of falls on sidewalks, streets and curbs. Falls in these locations were likelier to result in injuries than were falls as part of a recreational activity. The difference in injuries held true even though adults who walked for errands did far less walking than recreational walkers.

“These differences were not explained by individual factors such as an elder’s health, leading us to conclude the environment may play a significant role,” noted Li. “Further research will explore how elders interact with their environment and how to make neighborhoods safer for utilitarian walking.”

Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries in adults 65 and older.