Neighborhood active aging infrastructure and cognitive function: A mixed-methods study of older Americans

Academic Article


  • Physical exercise benefits cognitive functioning and can protect against neurodegeneration. Neighborhood environments may be pivotal to physically active aging, and thus help shape older adults' cognitive function. This mixed-methods study investigated where older adults exercised outside the home, and whether availability of these neighborhood sites was associated with cognitive function. We thematically analyzed qualitative data from semi-structured interviews in 2015 with 125 older adults (mean age = 71) in the Minneapolis (MN) metropolitan area. Results identified nearby public parks, fitness/sports amenities, and walkable destinations as motivators for recreational exercise and active transit among participants. These findings informed quantitative analysis of the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study, a national sample of older Black and white Americans (n = 21,151; mean age at assessment = 67; data collected 2006–2017). We used generalized additive multilevel models to examine whether neighborhood features that qualitative participants identified as encouraging physical activity were associated with elevated levels of cognitive function. Results indicated that residing in neighborhoods with greater availability of local parks, access to recreational amenities, and business density was associated with higher levels of cognitive function. We found no evidence to suggest a significant association between availability of these neighborhood resources and rate of cognitive decline. This study identifies specific neighborhood active aging infrastructure that may support cognitive function among older adults aging in place.
  • Authors

    Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Pubmed Id

  • 23953034
  • Author List

  • Finlay J; Esposito M; Li M; Colabianchi N; Zhou H; Judd S; Clarke P
  • Volume

  • 150