Access to outdoor recreation by older people in Scotland

Report detailing research on access to outdoor recreation for older people.

3. Barriers to outdoor recreation for older people

3.1 Aim and research questions

The case study work carried out in the second stage of the project aimed to investigate the barriers to participation in outdoor recreation experienced by older people in Scotland. Specifically, the research sought to answer the following questions:

  • Do participants want to engage more with the outdoors?
  • What barriers discourage or prevent them from accessing the outdoors?
  • How can we facilitate greater use of the outdoors amongst older people?

3.2 Methods

The research design was developed through a process of co-production between the researchers, colleagues in the Scottish Government's Rural & Environment Science and Analytical Services ( RESAS) division, and a wider stakeholder group including Scottish Government policy makers and partners from agencies with interests in landscape and involvement with the natural environment, physical activity and public health. In the first instance the qualitative case study design was devised by the researchers in discussion with RESAS. A qualitative approach was considered appropriate to provide in-depth insight on the full range of barriers experienced by older people. The detailed research design was developed further by the researchers (Currie and Colley) and subsequently refined in discussion with the stakeholder group.

3.2.1 Case study design

A multiple case study design was adopted (Yin, 2003) to ensure that research included participants spanning different types of areas varying in urbanity, with access to a range of different types of green/blue resources (see table 8). The selection of case study sites also took into consideration the need to ensure that the participant sample included a mix of people from different social backgrounds and, where possible, areas were selected to enable researchers to draw on existing community contacts to facilitate recruitment of participants. Each of the three selected case studies were identified as areas where older people were over-represented in the population based on the mapping and spatial analysis carried out in stage 1 of the work and described in section 2 of the report.

Table 8: Case study areas.

Case study area Green/blue resource Urban rural classification No. of participants
Dundee (Baxter Park area) Urban green Large urban area 9
Grantown-on-Spey Rural green Remote rural area 11
Arbroath Urban coastal blue Other urban area 7

3.2.2 Recruitment and participants

In total, twenty-seven participants took part across the three case study sites. The distribution of participants across sites is shown in table 9. Participants ranged in age from 66 to 91 years. Over two-thirds (19) of participants were female. Implications of this gender balance in the sample are discussed in section 3.4. A three-fold approach to recruitment was taken which employed:

1. Visits to community groups and clubs - by researchers, walking around the case study area, speaking to people in cafes, shops and other public places older people went to locally, and speaking to people in these groups where possible.

2. Public notices - Flyers were placed in public places ( GP surgeries, post-offices, community centres, local shops, libraries etc.) and a notice placed in the local newspaper.

3. Snowball sampling - Potential participants were suggested or introduced to the researchers through existing and newly-developed contacts in community organisations and/or participants already engaged in the research.

Public notices proved to be an ineffective method for recruiting older people in these communities as no volunteers were recruited via these communications. All of the participants were recruited either through organisations delivering services and activities in the community, or through participants already engaged in the research. Some of these groups were specifically for older people, whereas others were open to all but with a high proportion of members over 65. These organisations included a number of local charities providing lunch clubs and social activities, a church-based craft group and local health walk groups.

A number of inclusion criteria were applied in the selection of participants (see below). Efforts were made to maximise variety in the sample by obtaining as close to a balance in gender as possible, and ensuring that participants ranged in terms of age and physical abilities. Recruitment focused on accessing participants with limited existing engagement in outdoor recreation where possible. Although this was the case for most of the participants, some ( e.g. those taking part in health walks groups) were regularly participating in outdoor recreation already yet were included in the sample as they still faced barriers that made their participation difficult or had stories to tell about how they had overcome barriers experienced previously.

Participant inclusion criteria:

  • Aged 65 years or over;
  • Retired/economically inactive;
  • Living independently (not a resident of an institution such as a residential or care home);
  • Year-round resident of the study area.

Table 9: Profile of participants.

No. Interview Sex Age
1 Grantown-on-Spey 1 F 68
2 Grantown-on-Spey 2 M 75
3 Grantown-on-Spey 3 F 80
4 Grantown-on-Spey 4a F 73
5 Grantown-on-Spey 4b F 77
6 Grantown-on-Spey 4c F 69
7 Grantown-on-Spey 4d F 86
8 Grantown-on-Spey 4e F >65
9 Grantown-on-Spey 4f F >65
10 Grantown-on-Spey 5 M 73
11 Grantown-on-Spey 6 M 77
12 Arbroath 1 F 75
13 Arbroath 2 M 68
14 Arbroath 3 F 78
15 Arbroath 4 F 81
16 Arbroath 5 M 84
17 Arbroath 6a F 90
18 Arbroath 6b F 77
19 Dundee 1 F 66
20 Dundee 2 M 67
21 Dundee 3a F 72
22 Dundee 3b M 79
23 Dundee 4 F 77
24 Dundee 5 M 81
25 Dundee 6 F 76
26 Dundee 7 F 73
27 Dundee 8 F 91

3.2.3 Data collection and ethics

Data were collected through semi-structured interviews, and in one case through a small focus group in Grantown-on-Spey, where the group was unwilling to speak on their own to the researcher. The majority of interviews took place either in the participant's home, in an appropriate public place ( e.g. local café), or in situ at the premises of community organisations where recruitment had taken place. Two interviews in Grantown-on-Spey were conducted by telephone, as a result of participants being ill and unable to attend the originally scheduled interview time. The interviews lasted between 12 minutes and 1 hour 3 mins, with most lasting 20-55 minutes. All sessions were audio-recorded, with consent, and transcribed for analysis. Participants were provided with an information sheet on the project in advance of the interview (see Appendix C). Prior to commencing the interview, the researcher again outlined the purpose of the study, what the interview would entail, how the data would be treated, and the participant's rights regarding their consent to participate. The interview schedule is provided in Appendix D of this report. Written informed consent was obtained (see Appendix E). Ethical approval for the project was granted by The James Hutton Institute Research Ethics Committee prior to data collection commencing.

3.3 Findings

3.3.1 Current engagement in outdoor recreation

Outdoor recreation vs. being active out-of-doors

Exploring participants' current levels of engagement proved more complex than initially expected as it became clear that different participants interpreted 'outdoor recreation' or 'getting into the outdoors for recreation' in different ways. This was largely because of different notions of 'the outdoors'. Not all participants recognised a distinction between being in a built-up area versus a natural environment or saw it as relevant. Similarly, the distinction between recreation/leisure activities and other activities (such as walking to get to a destination) was not always clear to participants. For example, many participants talked about walking for active travel ( e.g. walking to the bus stop, social clubs or local shops and supermarkets) or walking in built-up areas for more leisurely purposes. The latter included shopping/window-shopping or "taking a wee dander" around the local town centre or in other towns visited by car or bus on day trips. These activities were seen as a good way to incorporate physical activity into the daily routine:

Well I try to do as much walking as I can but nae walking as such but shopping. Like I won't take the bus into the nearest shop and go there, I will walk. I'll walk from the town as far [as]Tesco's and back up and its quite a bit to walk... ....because they say do half an hour in the house, half an hour in the house is a hell of a long time in the house I can tell you that!..... I go around that table till I'm blue in the face and I've only done 5 minutes! (A6a-F-90)

Others talked about walking in natural environments but for instrumental reasons rather than for enjoyment. For example, one participant only did so for the sake of walking her dog and letting it run around in an open space:

I need a reason and the reason I go for walks is because my doggie needs out for a walk! If he did'nae need out for a walk I would'nae be going out for a walk! But I'm honest about it, you get these people that say oh no I would do that anyway and I'm thinking I would'nae do nothing if I got away with it. (D6-F-76)

Similarly, many participants talked about gardening which, although for some was seen as a form of outdoor recreation, was viewed by others more as a household chore that needed to be done but which offered little or no enjoyment other than the satisfaction of 'getting on top of things'.

A few participants took a view of outdoor recreation that included any recreational activities that took place outside their home, discussing their participation in craft groups, country dancing, lunch clubs or travelling by car to visit friends' homes. These individuals placed great importance on simply getting out of the home and interacting with other people. For one participant, the idea of taking part in outdoor recreation was of little relevance compared to her need to connect with others, which might be better achieved in the built environment:

...there's nobody in Baxter Park that you can turn around and can go down the town, I can go down the town and sit on a bench. Sometimes people will speak to you and sometimes they don't. I mean I'm not the only one that's lonely... ... I like sitting in the square because people are in the square you know? (D8-F-91)

Two participants from Arbroath were members of a self-organised 'disabled ramblers group' in which the members take day trips in summer to visit destinations including parks and coastal towns on mobility scooters transported by trailer. These individuals thoughts and opinions were included in the analysis as it was clear that their motorised activity was allowing them to access the outdoors for recreational purposes.

Finally, for several participants in Grantown-on-Spey, the boundary between built environments and the 'outdoors' was further blurred by the characteristics of the rural setting. These individuals felt they automatically get the experience of being in the outdoors simply by stepping outside the house, even in the centre of the village:

...because in Grantown-on-Spey here, even if you're just walking up the High Street, you're not exactly in the town are you! ... You're virtually still in the countryside even on the High Street aren't you? (G3-F-80)

The examples highlight that outdoor recreation is not a clear cut concept, and that the definitions of outdoor recreation used in policy and practice may not necessarily concur with the interpretations and meanings of outdoor recreation held by the older generation. These meanings may depend on what is most salient to the individual for their wellbeing, for example emphasising outcomes of getting sufficient physical activity and social contact rather than being active in the 'great outdoors'.

Participants' engagement in outdoor recreation

From the perspective of outdoor recreation as (non-motorised) leisure activities taking place in largely natural environments such as greenspace, beaches and the coast, woodlands etc., participants were mixed in terms of their levels of engagement. Several reported participation on at least a weekly basis, whilst several reported no engagement at all, with others falling somewhere between these two ends of the spectrum. Amongst those who reported some level of participation, the intensity and duration of activity also varied considerably, with some of the more frequent walkers walking at a gentle pace for relatively short periods of time, and some of the those who participate less regularly doing much longer walks or more challenging walks, for example on a monthly basis. Overall, levels of engagement were highest amongst the Grantown-on-Spey participants. It should be noted that five of the 11 Grantown-on-Spey participants were involved in organised walking groups (though only two were recruited via a group). This is compared to two walking group attendees in Arbroath and three in Dundee. It is therefore difficult to attribute any differences in overall levels of participation between the case studies to particular factors. Notably, the majority of participants reporting participation in outdoor recreation on at least a weekly basis attended an organised walking group or club.

Walking (including with dogs) was by far the most commonly reported activity across the three study areas. Gardening was the next most popular activity, reported mainly by participants in Grantown-on-Spey and Arbroath. Only participants in Grantown-on-Spey reported other types of outdoor recreation activity which included skiing, golfing, running and cycling. With the exception of cycling (reported by one female participant) these other activities were performed by two particularly active male participants in their mid-late seventies.

Although many participants reported walking alone when in town or when going about everyday business such as going for a bus, visiting the local shop etc., most instances of outdoor recreation were described as occurring in the company of others. In addition to those who did most, or all, of their walking with organised groups, others tended to report walking with spouses, friends, or (less often) other family members. A few participants, however, reported tending to walk on their own out of a preference for their own company. Skiing and golfing were usually done in company, although the male runner went alone.

Of those participants who reported taking part in outdoor recreation, most walked in their immediate local area or in other familiar places in the wider area easily accessible by bus or car. Some participants also reported outdoor recreation as part of holidays elsewhere in Scotland or the UK, or in one case in Europe. These trips included walking weekends with friends, and holidays away in a caravan or motorhome which included walks in the countryside or in historic designed gardens. For the most part, however, the most common settings for walking were familiar local places. Familiar settings may be particularly important for those who are less confident, and because knowledge about the availability of facilities such as toilets or benches can become increasingly important in older age:

Participant: Its Baxter Park as far as I'm concerned, Baxter Park is the best.

Researcher: And why is that?

P: I don't know about the toilet facilities in other parks... When you get to this age you're always looking for toilet facilities! [Laughter]

R: So you know what you're getting then with Baxter Park?

P: Yeah I know what I'm getting with Baxter Park yeah. (D2-M-67)

The types of environments used for outdoor recreation varied between case study areas. As expected, participants in Dundee most often mentioned walking in urban greenspace. Baxter Park was the closest greenspace to home for most of those in the Dundee site, and was discussed most often. Other parks were also mentioned, including Camperdown Country Park, as well as blue spaces such as the Dighty Burn and Swannie Pond. Amongst Arbroath residents the most commonly reported settings were Victoria Park (situated on the waterfront) and along the sea front including the harbour area. Grantown-on-Spey participants' outdoor recreation settings focused on the Anagach community woodland and River Spey in the immediate vicinity of Grantown-on-Spey, along with other walking routes in the foothills of the Cairngorms. Visits further afield to (other) coastal towns and beaches were mentioned by participants in all three study areas, but particularly those from Arbroath and Dundee.

Satisfaction with current level of participation

Across the case study areas there was a tendency for participants to report satisfaction, acceptance or resignation with respect to their participation in outdoor recreation (or lack of it). Very few expressed dissatisfaction, though some who were constrained by health and mobility issues reported that they would do more if they could. One participant voiced frustration that she could not manage more, however others felt either that that there was no alternative but to accept the situation, or that on the balance of things they are still happy with their lot. Those who were already engaging in outdoor recreation on a regular basis tended to report feeling satisfied with what they did. Several of those who reported never engaging in outdoor recreation had no interest in taking up any outdoor activities. Some participants accepted no longer being able to get outdoors in the same way as they once did. There was a sense that their expectations and aspirations had narrowed in their older age:

Nah nah nah, not now, not nowadays, not at my age!… basically when you get to my age and my stage it's a case of just day-to-day, and if you waken in the morning that's a bonus... ...Well if anybody says to you any different they're telling you lies because to me, you're getting to the stage now where you're wearing down the way... I mean I've had my life! (D5-M-81).

I'm quite happy with the way things are you know? I'm not...obviously I'd love to be able to go bloody hill climbing, and hill walking and things like that but that's not...just not possible so... (A2-M-68)

For others, their lack of interest in outdoor recreation was simply a case of preference. These participants tended to talk about indoor leisure activities that they preferred. These included active pursuits like indoor bowling, dancing, zumba and other fitness classes as well as more sedentary activities like reading, dominoes, and crafts.

3.3.2 Barriers to participation in outdoor recreation

Understanding the barriers that prevent older people engaging with outdoor access is important in considering responses as to how these could be overcome. The interview schedules specifically sought to ask questions on certain barriers that may be perceived as hindering outdoor access to older people. These include:

  • Poor health and (im)mobility;
  • Lack of or reduced social relationships and isolation;
  • Being generally busy and having other commitments;
  • Safety;
  • Weather and season;
  • Appropriateness and accessibility of outdoor spaces to older adults.

However other themes arose during the interviews and subsequent analysis including:

  • An individual's self-perceived fragility and vulnerability;
  • Individual's motivation and negative attitudes to being in the outdoors;
  • Gender;
  • Place.

The paragraphs below address some of the main barriers relating to: health and mobility; fragility and vulnerability; social barriers; motivation and negative attitudes; other commitments; safety; access to outdoor spaces; and weather and season.

Health and Mobility

Many of the participants stated that they had (a) medical condition(s) that limited what they were able to do. Chronic problems faced by the older people who were interviewed included: joints being replaced (hips and knees); broken bones; asthma; bronchiectasis; chest problems; osteoporosis; kidney problems; arthritis; high blood pressure; localised paralysis; and cancer. Some participants were faced with multiple health conditions that limited their ability to participate in outdoor activity. e.g.:

I've got a bad heart, and I've got a bad leg as well, but I've got a bad heart - I've got a defibrillator... (D5-M-81)

Older people are more likely to have multiple lifelong conditions than younger people and trying to think of solutions to overcome these may be more challenging. Participants also commented that there was pain associated with their condition(s):

Not when I'm walking. I do get discomfort at times, but sometimes it' could be in my bed, just the way I turn ... I don't know what, you know, causes it, but it's not just my ankle, it's maybe up the back of my leg... I think the tendons have a lot to do with it - you know, things like that. But on the whole, I'm fine, and I'm able to get out and about, so that's the main thing (D7-F-73)

Some of the participants also noted temporary health barriers which made it difficult for them to access the outdoors for a set period of time. Examples given included: broken bones and ligament injuries, chest infections, shingles, panic attacks and sciatica. Regarding her shingles, this participant stated:

Now I'm fine. But, at the time, it absolutely flattened me. I couldn't go walking. I'd start off and have to come back, you know. Just totally exhausted me. (D1-F-66)

Health and mobility problems can also affect how much an individual can do when they do get outside, for example one participant noted that with his health condition it took longer to do the same thing he did before and he felt that he had less energy to do it. Such health problems can affect an individual's mobility, which will play a big role in allowing older people to get into the outdoors:

And it's come back to haunt me so...uh...I can't breathe very well. I run out of breath very quickly so if I'm outside especially around this area I use a scooter to get around. (A2-M-68)

Physically you think oh gosh my legs are tired. You just need to sit down for a minute. Well I do. (G4-F-focus group)

It was also found that other peoples' health, generally those the participant lived with or who were common outdoor companions could also affect how much the person was able to get outside. As well as going with others to use the outdoors (covered in the social barriers section below), participants also stated that they were given advice by others about their use of the outdoors and the amount of exercise they should be doing. This could be both a positive and negative influence. Negatively, one participant was told that she should stop doing something that he perceived to be too strenuous for her. Positively, one participant stated that his wife had encouraged him to be more active:

A bit of both, like I say a lack of motivation, my wife is always shouting at me, go and do something! Yes dear! (D2-M-67)

When asked, a few participants stated that they would do more outdoor activities if it was "prescribed" by their doctor. Doctors are people in a position of authority and trust, and it is possible that people may feel that they should follow their advice over the advice given to them by their peers. People may also feel that a doctor's advice is appropriate for their specific health needs. One participant, who had joined a walking group, described their doctor's positive reaction to her going on a walking group:

Yeah because I've got really high blood pressure to the point of...being admitted to Ninewells... 'Cause of this panic attack thing, you know. So starting the walking group, he was like 'That's great, just keep going on that till'... And yeah, it's come down remarkably... (D1-F-66)

Some people had stopped doing activities that they once enjoyed due to ill-health. One example was given of a man who had given up bowling due to his bad knees, and someone else had given up bowling due to a tremor in his hand. Others had tried new activities when they no longer felt able to do more strenuous activities, however new endeavours were not always successful:

Participant 1: "I took it up when I was too old to play anything else. I gave it up very quickly the ball was too small. The stick is too small and the hole is quite definitely too small.

Researcher: You're talking about golf?

Participant 1: The whole thing is too slow.

Participant 2: It's a good walk spoilt really for me!

Participant 3: I'd rather go and walk around the golf course and look at the birds." (G4-F- focus group)

Fragility and Vulnerability

It was found that participants began to feel more frail and vulnerable as they aged and this had a direct impact on their willingness to go outside. A very common theme within this barrier was a fear of falling. Some participants had direct experience of falling e.g.

I'm very cautious because I did fall in the woods years ago and...and I broke my arm so...I do...look where I'm going! (G1-F-68)

I would have to have someone there just in case because I once fell that was a few years ago and I was stuck down there and I could'nae get up until a man came along with his dog and I guarantee it was three-quarters of an hour I tried to get up. I had nothing to hold onto. (A6a-F-90)

As the latter quote suggests, this means that many of the participants were worried to go into the outdoors by themselves. For some this was because they worried that if the fell they wouldn't be able to get up; one example from Dundee was given of a man who could no longer kneel so didn't know how he would get back up. Some participants stated that because they were afraid to fall, they did not go out alone, whilst others stated that they took precautions in an attempt to stop them from falling e.g. wearing suitable footwear, and a taking phone with them when they went out. However, it was noted that mobile signals were not always reliable in some outdoor areas, particularly in Grantown-on-Spey.

People were also worried about falling because it could affect their own future and independence as well as others that they lived with and in their families. There were also a few comments that seemed to relate to older people becoming aware of their age and their increasing limitations, meaning that they became (relatively) more cautious as a result:

Just incrementally you get a little more cautious so it's just age and it's not that you' haven't quite started dying apart from the fact you're dying once you're alive! But incrementally you take less and less risks and you think more carefully about dashing out if you can only see 10 yards and there's ice. (G6-M-77)

Other fears that people had of going into the outdoors for recreational purposes included: fear of catching a cold/getting ill; the risk of losing their independence if they were to fall; and a general loss of confidence as people get older and their social circles decrease. As participants lost confidence, or had a bad experience that shaped this loss of confidence it appeared that they perceived themselves to be more frail and consequently trips into the outdoors were associated more with being "risky".

Social barriers

It was found that a social environment can both stimulate and deter outdoor activity. Many participants in Dundee and Arbroath stated that they did not like to go out by themselves:

Well I don't like going out walking myself. There is walking groups but…and they've had a walking group for years but I've never went there because my legs won't take me...(A3-F-78)

Participant: You feel embarrassed.

Researcher: Embarrassed on your own?

Participant: Yes!

Researcher: Why is that?

F: I don't know what's wrong with me but I don't like going any place on my own. (D8-F-91)

No-one in Grantown-on-Spey said they were deterred to go outside by themselves. This may be related to other statements about always being able to bump into someone they knew when they were out, so the opportunity to have a social interaction when going out by themselves was almost guaranteed.

Participants discussed not getting into the outdoors or getting into the outdoors less than they used. This was because they had lost the companionship of someone to go with, specifically losing a spouse, a friend or someone in the same household to go out with, or friends moving away. This was similar across the different case study areas. One person discussed that people needed to be accommodating to others' needs to encourage them to go e.g. walking at the same pace.

It's not the same... Since my husband died, well I did a lot of walking and cycling and that with him, but it's not the same just going out yourself... (A3-F-78)

Participants specifically mentioned liking to go to places where other people are; finding people with similar interests to go out with; and preferring to go out with people they already know. However not everyone wanted to go out with others and there were participants who explicitly stated that they liked going into the outdoors alone. Some participants specifically mentioned preferring to go walking with people who are quiet so they are able to appreciate nature that may otherwise be scared away by talking and noise.

Gender was also mentioned as a potential barrier. However these views predominantly related to participation in a walking group and as such are addressed in section 3.3.4 which discusses attitudes towards interventions.

Lack of motivation and negative attitudes

One participant stated that it "felt pointless" going for a walk with no purpose at the end of it and associated being in the outdoors with being sporty:

And I hate sport, I hated sport when I was at school and I've hated sport ever since, there was absolutely no way I'm going to go and do sports. (A1-F-75).

There was mention by participants of not being bothered to go out, but of these participants there were some who were encouraged to go out by other people e.g. spouses. Others felt that it was important to be self-motivated:

If I don't make an effort I'm stuck here! It's up to yourself to move. (A6b-F-77)

Dogs also appear to motivate participants to getting out more:

Not so much around the way here because we're usually away but... ...put down once a month maybe for... ... And we don't...haven't got a dog now so he doesn't take us out… well it was maybe six miles a day... And it's a mile up to the top of the woods and a mile back, and we would do that maybe three times a day... (A5-M-84)

I'm lazy! Yeah he's my incentive but I'm lazy and I know I'm lazy …[later in the interview]… I need a reason and the reason I go for walks is because my doggie needs out for a walk! If he did'nae need out for a walk I would'nae be going out for a walk! But I'm honest about it, you get these people that say oh no I would do that anyway and I'm thinking I would'nae do nothing if I got away [with it] (D6-F-76)

The quotes of these interviewees highlight the importance of dogs getting people into the outdoors. In this study we found that relatively few of those interviewed had dogs. It is therefore possible that this study underestimates the importance of dogs for motivating their owners and others who walk them to get into the outdoors for recreational purposes. It should also be noted that this research was framed around barriers rather than motivators to outdoor recreation; it is therefore possible that although dog ownership is associated with greater participation, not owning a dog is not something which participants consciously considered to be a barrier to their engagement.

Other time commitments

Older people in the study described themselves as having busy lives which acted as a barrier for them to get into the outdoors. Reasons for this included:

  • Volunteering and other community work;
  • Taking care of their home and garden;
  • Being too busy doing other things;
  • Having caring responsibilities.

I think the biggest problem is I might get through a day if there was an extra 2 hours in the morning, and an extra 2 hours somewhere between 4 and 6 o'clock. I might eventually achieve everything in one day that I meant to! I just find there's not enough time. (G4-focus group)

Well that's what I say today I've been for coffee, collected my grandson from the school, had lunch with him, took him back, come here, and then I've got country dancing after tea! (A6b-F-77)

Once she goes back to work we'll be babysitting again! And it certainly restricts you and we tend not to go away uh...if my son-in-law is here because he works on the rigs so he's away for a fortnight or 3 weeks at a time so rather than leave my daughter on her own we do the pick-ups (D2-M-67)

Noting that he had a busy life, this person deliberately put time aside to get into the outdoors:

Well I just need to organise my life differently so know, having a walk you know, or a cycle is higher up the priority list (G5-M-73)

These findings are important in that they challenge the perception that older people have lots of free time and therefore that time would not be a barrier to their participation in outdoor recreation. Many of the older people that we interviewed perceived themselves to be as busy as they had been at other stages of their lives.


The interviews revealed that the majority of participants were not scared of being in the outdoors. However, two types of safety fears were brought up by participants: (1) fear of being attacked by people and dogs, and (2) fear of falling and no-one being able to help. Two women interviewed had been attacked in the past, both within the last two years. One in Dundee had been chased in a graveyard (D1), and the other had been flashed in Arbroath (A6). Safety was a more apparent concern for these women than other participants and acted as a barrier to their current engagement in the outdoors. Neither were willing to be in the outdoors alone as illustrated by the following comment:

Yes uhuh, and... ... But I run...I mean I could...quite good runner, you know, and I ran and jumped over the wall and... And my... But after that I really started to... After! You know, I had to think back what happened, you know, 'cause the doctor asked what happened ... But my friend son's a policeman, and he'd said 'Why didn't you phone us and just...tell us?', you know - it could have been totally... ...simple! explanation like, you know ... Because there had been people attacked in the cemetery, you know...(D1-F-66)

Examples were given by participants of people choosing to avoid certain areas and places, however, this was only in Arbroath and Dundee but not Grantown-on-Spey.

But when I go out to St Vigeans, I take a specific route, and I take the same route back. Because, the route that we take from the Town Mission where you go by this dam, it's a bit uncertain - you know, it's kind of solitary, and I don't feel safe going on my own...(A1-F-75)

It was also found that participants were warned by others to avoid certain places:

Well the darkness doesn't put me off, it's just that you hear that many stories and things like know, like, muggings and things like that, you just get frightened to go on your own...(A3-F-78)

Some participants mentioned not going to places alone and feeling safer during the day. With one exception, all of those that noted feeling safer during the day were female, suggesting that the females in the study faced a greater barrier in terms of fear of being attacked than the men. Three Grantown-on-Spey respondents specifically said that they felt safer in Grantown-on-Spey than in other areas they had lived. There was also some discussion around familiar places feeling safer and knowing what to expect.

One person expressed a fear of dogs and not knowing where they might be:

Yes the only thing that's unsafe are dogs because the dogs go out and when you're out they're let off lead and you don't know what's lurking around the next corner. (G2-M-75)

Access to outdoor spaces

Needing to take a car to access the outdoor spaces that they wanted to go to was mentioned as a barrier. A number of participants stated that they liked getting into the outdoors but were reliant on friends and family with cars to take them there, therefore the availability of transport to access outdoor spaces may act as a barrier.

I try and get there but's only if I've got somebody that can put the scooter in the car for me (A2-M-68)

Well one chap had a crash and is not allowed to drive now and he lives [further away] so we've got an arrangement that somebody will try and pick him up to take him to the walks. (G2-M-75)

I don't walk as much as I used to because I can't drive so...and my husband is not interested anymore so I don't go for long walks like I used to...(G4-focus group)

Others stated that they used buses and taxis or relied on walking groups with their own transport who are able to collect them in suitable vehicles. The disabled ramblers group in Arbroath, for example, was able to transport wheelchairs and mobility scooters too. Additional ways in which the participants were prevented from getting to preferred outdoor areas included: financial constraints, lack of suitable paths, and the distance between preferred spaces and home. One participant said a fence had been put up to deter access to one space; whilst two participants in Dundee stated local bowling greens had closed down. The issue of paths acting as a barrier also arose. Specifically mentioned concerns included: uneven ground, tree roots (particularly in Grantown-on-Spey - mentioned by all but one participant), mud, being overgrown. Two participants mentioned that they only liked going somewhere if there was a presence of local facilities such as toilets, benches and cafés.

With regards to the perceived quality of outdoor spaces for their personal use, two participants said they did not want to use areas that were "boring" or "not very interesting" (although participant was not talking about her local area). Other issues that affected the quality of spaces included: dirty environments including dog fouling, and those perceived to be unsafe. One person found it hard to found an appropriate outdoor space to exercise his dog.

Weather and Season

Bad weather generally appeared to put participants off wanting to go into the outdoor:

I can get out more, I just...don't, especially not in this weather! (D1-F-66)

Oh no I mean I say I still ski, I said I might go up a dozen times to Cairngorm but there's only 6 or 7 that might be appropriate to ski, you might have one run and think oh dear its icy in there and you can't see, or there are 50 mile an hour winds and although I did ski in those conditions when I was younger it's a bit foolish to think of doing that now so health and weather start limiting your...the range of your activities. (G5-M-73)

Nearly all participants stated that there was some aspect of poor weather that put them off accessing the outdoors and there were participants who stated that:

  • They will only go out in dry weather/when it is a nice day;
  • Wind puts them off;
  • Rain puts them off;
  • They did not like the cold (and some specifically disliked ice).

One reason that weather acted as a barrier to the outdoors was because it was felt to aggravate particular health conditions:

From here on till about April it's pretty much out yeah because...I went to the Remembrance Parade last week and that's what's caused my chest problem at the moment. (A2-M-68)

And then I mean I've got...I go to the COPD ... And eh...well that week...last week I had this chest infection, so I couldn't get out... And it was cold in the wind, and if the wind catches you... (A3-F-78)

However a small number of participants stated that the weather does not affect how they use the outdoors.

I mean I think obviously in the summer, if it's a nice day, the attraction of going out is greater... But ehm, no we'll go out most times, even when there's ice and snow around (G5-M-73)

Several participants stated that they get out more during the summer and mainly attribute this to better weather and more light in the evenings. Some participants who were in walking groups stated that these were restricted in winter months.

Multiple barriers

From the results it is evident that this research has identified a number of barriers that deter older people from getting into the outdoors. For the majority of participants interviewed there are multiple barriers acting together which prevent older people from accessing the outdoors. Multiple barriers may require more complex solutions than individual barriers alone. If only one barrier is addressed it is unlikely to provide a suitable solution as it may only tackle part of the problem. Thus, understanding that barriers do not act in isolation from each other is important. For example, an individual might have a long-term health condition meaning they are less steady on their feet, increasing their fear of falling and limiting the availability of suitable paths, decreasing their confidence and making them not want to go into the outdoors alone. Providing only a suitable path may not overcome the complex interaction of barriers faced by this individual but providing someone to go out with the person on the suitable path may be a more suitable solution. When examining the different barriers identified above, the researchers also considered the interconnections between multiple barriers. These linkages have been conceptualised in Figure 9 below. This highlights, again, the idea that for many older people there are multiple barriers that may work together to exclude them from being able to access and use the outdoors.

Figure 9: Key interconnections between barriers to participation in outdoor recreation experienced by older people.

Figure 9: Key interconnections between barriers to participation in outdoor recreation experienced by older people.

3.3.3 Moments of change

In addition to asking participants about the current barriers that constrain engagement in outdoor recreation, we also explored with them their participation in outdoor recreation at different points in their life course. This life history approach allowed us to investigate how participation had changed (or not) for them during different stages of their life and the key 'moments of change' where the extent or form of their engagement with the outdoors had shifted considerably. The most central moments of change with respect to outdoor recreation engagement were:

  • Getting married and/or having children;
  • Children growing into teenagers;
  • Moving to a new area;
  • Retirement;
  • The onset of health problems;
  • Spouses or friends passing away;
  • Dogs passing away.

These moments of change are discussed below, structured according to the life stage at which they were most often reported to occur.

Outdoor experiences as a child and young adult

Participants described a variety of outdoor activities they engaged in as a child. These ranged from activities with parents and family (such as walks locally on a Sunday, hill-walking or even sailing), to competitive sports ( e.g. rugby, hockey, netball, putting, running and cycling), activities with organised youth groups like the Scouts, and unstructured outdoor play in the woods, on bikes or climbing rocks in a nearby quarry. These activities were dependent on the type of area in which participants grew up. Those who talked about growing up in the city focused on outdoor play in the streets:

No we never thought about parks. You played out in the street and you were happy go lucky. That was you, you were fine! Nah! Nah! (D8-F-91)

This same participant described herself as never having really been engaged in outdoor recreation activities in outdoor spaces throughout her life. When asked why, she talked of the female role models she had while growing up:

I never saw my mother doing anything. Never seen my mother going anywhere, or nothing. No! Never seem my mother.. my gran or... as I said I didn't know my mum until I was about 12 or 13 but my gran she never... we used to go out to play, we were kids out to play. (D8-F-91)

As mentioned previously, a few of the female participants associated outdoor recreation with sports and commented on how they had never been 'sporty', almost as if this was an aspect of their identity which had been set from their youth.

Marriage and family life

The first major moment of change described by participants was the stage at which they got married and/or started a family. Many talked about these two rites of passage in conjunction so we discuss them here together. A small number of participants reported taking up new activities on getting married - either adopting their new spouse's existing hobbies like walking or cycling, or starting new activities like caravanning together. However, many more participants described giving up activities and sports that they engaged in as a teenager and young adult. For example, one participant stated:

Right at school I used to be the hockey captain.. And I ran for Dundee.. And I did netball… And then you get married…, you have kids… You know! And your life changes into something else. Yeah. Yeah I always used to be really active, you know? (D1-F-66)

The reasons for this were varied - whether it was to switch to a different outdoor activity that their new spouse also enjoyed, because it was difficult to fit these activities in whilst caring for young children, or simply that individual pursuits went by the wayside to be replaced by activities for the whole family to enjoy. However, although a number of participants reported giving up activities at this stage, these were usually replaced with other (perhaps less vigorous) types of outdoor recreation. Outdoor recreation as a parent of young children was described in terms of trips to the seaside, games and picnics in parks, walks along local canal and rivers, holidays and day trips in the countryside. For some participants the time when their children were young represented the period of their lives when they spent most time in the outdoors:

But, ehm...apart from that, you know, I would take...when my child was...first child was about a year old, and I lived in Monifieth, in the summer we'd go down to the beach every day... And, you know, just put things in her pushchair - picnic - and we went every single good day there was... She lived at the beach! (A1-F-75)

Getting married and having children represented a key moment of change for both male and female participants. There were, however, some differences in the types of outdoor recreation with young children recalled by men and women. Though both mothers and fathers talked about trips to the park and to the beach, fathers were somewhat more likely to mention daytrips and holidays away, whereas the mothers tended to talk more of everyday use of local green or blue space. These differences may reflect traditional divisions of labour at the time when these participants had a young family. One female participant hinted that part of the reason for outdoor recreation at this stage was to cope with the demands of having young children at home and let them use up some energy:

You've got a child you said? Well you either murder them or you take them out, rain or no, don't you?! (G3-F-80)

The next moment of change, described by many participants, was the point at which children grew older and started to become less interested in outdoor activities with the family, preferring to spend time with their friends instead. One participant described how she became less active when her kids grew older:

You went out and you did things with the kids, and yeah you were active. I was really active while my kids were young... ...Once they left school there was'nae the same incentive to go and do things. I don't know if everybody is like that but that was me. (D6-F-76)

Another participant also linked this phase with a wider change in her lifestyle when her children left home. It should be noted that, unlike when activities in youth were replaced with family outdoor activities, there were no mentions of participants taking up new activities, or even continuing the same activities without the children, when family outings fizzled out. This might suggest that the point at which children are entering their teens, and perhaps even later when they leave the home altogether, are times where there are significant opportunities to promote the uptake or continuance of outdoor recreation activities amongst parents.

Interestingly, very few participants talked about doing outdoor activities with young grandchildren or great-grandchildren. A few of the grandparents gave some reasons for this. Specific examples mentioned were that their families lived far away, or that they did not have contact with their grandchildren, or that despite looking after grandchildren regularly after school they have to be indoors cooking the children's meals.

Middle age and beyond

Many of the key moments of change described by older people occurred in middle age and beyond, although some of these experiences are not necessarily specific to this life stage. Perhaps the most prominent moment of change highlighted by participants was the onset of health problems. Health problems consisted not just of the onset of chronic diseases and disabilities; there were also indications that shorter-term illnesses and mental health crises also marked periods where participants stopped doing certain outdoor activities or reduced their overall level of engagement with the outdoors, with ongoing effects. For some participants the change occurred as a result of a deterioration in the health of others, usually spouses, and in one case the spouse of her walking companion.

The death of spouses or friends, along with the final stages of their lives, marked a pronounced period of transition in outdoor engagement for several participants. These major life events affected outdoor recreation behaviour in a number of different ways for different participants. Activities and outings ceased as ill spouses could no longer manage them, caring for spouses took priority over recreation, and hobbies that used to be done together were not necessarily taken up again by the surviving person in the absence of the companionship of the person who had died. The loss of a partner can mark a turning point in many aspects of life, and effects on outdoor recreation were not necessarily simply attributable to the loss of an activity companion:

Participant: Well...well...with that...after I lost my wife I just...well, what you say - you just give up the ghost, that's it...

Researcher: So was it not having her be getting out and about, or?

Participant: Och I don't know, basically I don't know

Researcher: Just...things changed?

Participant: Everything just changes, that's it. (D5-M-81)

One participant remarked how losing her husband also affected her inclusion in activities that they used to do with other couples:

Because when you were married, it was you and him, you know, and then once he went, you just say to yourself 'What am I gonna do?' ... And then...see when you're married, you go out in couples... And then when you're left on your own, that's it - you're not invited to the same... (A3-F-78)

Although these losses tended to be described as points at which outdoor recreation diminished, it may also be a time when individuals can benefit from the social contact offered by group activities. One participant reported that when she was widowed she joined her walking group at the suggestion of a friend:

My friend [name]... You know, when my husband died, she said, you know, 'You've got to be involved! Do things! You mustn't stay home!'. And she told me about it, and they're very welcoming... (G3-F-80)

Moving to a new area marked a transition for some participants, with others mentioning giving up an outdoor activity when friends or neighbours moved away. Moving to a new area (or others moving away) resulted in activities being dropped due to the disruption to participants' social network, for example, no longer having a tennis partner or friends to go cycling or walking with. However, moving to a more rural area was seen to open up more opportunities for outdoor recreation although these opportunities were not always taken advantage of to their full extent. A number of the Grantown-on-Spey participants had moved there at the point of retirement, or at the point of winding down their career. Their reasons for choosing to move to the area were varied, however a few noted that they had regularly visited the Cairngorms for holidays previously. Although one participant described immediately joining a hill-walking club on his arrival, another explained that since moving to the area he and his wife were not doing as much outdoor recreation as they had expected to:

It's quite different actually. I tell everybody that being on holiday somewhere is different from living there. Because you have a house, a garden to look after, and so you know, we have… I've been in the garden and working in the garden is like being outdoors anyway, and what have you… So you know, that occupies more of the time than you expect, so we've done less walking and cycling than we thought we would do when we originally came here. (G5-M-73)

The point of retirement itself was described by some as an important moment of change in their outdoor recreation participation. A few participants talked about joining walking groups or clubs, and having more time for outdoor activities after retiring; because, as one put it:

Because you've're master of your own time, when you're working you're not master at all.(G2-M-75)

However, many participants did not feel that they have a great deal of time for outdoor leisure activities in their retirement due to other commitments and responsibilities taking precedence. For others who had previously had opportunities to spend time enjoying visits to a park as part of their work caring for others ( e.g. as a care assistant in a residential home or childminder), retirement marked a reduction in outdoor recreation. On balance, however, more participants talked about retirement as a point at which they started doing more outdoor recreation rather than less. This may suggest that the point of retirement could be an advantageous time to engage people in walking groups and other initiatives to promote outdoor recreation.

Finally, a number of participants mentioned that they had previously been very active outdoors when walking dogs on at least a daily basis, but that their walking became much less frequent when their dog(s) passed away. This is likely to affect people of all ages, however advancing years may discourage people from getting a new dog:

…we didnae want another dog because we didn't… if you got a young puppy, you didnae ken how long we were going to last and you didn't want to leave it (D3-M-72)

Similarly, another participant felt that the only thing that would encourage her to walk more was getting a dog but she did not feel that she should because of her age.

Overall, the analysis of participants' life histories of outdoor experience complements the analysis of current barriers in a number of ways. Firstly, they serve to highlight the large extent to which outdoor recreation amongst older people depends on social networks and health. These are connected in that it is not only the health of the individual, but also that of other members of their family and social circle, that impact on outdoor recreation in this age group. It is notable that many of the moments of change described by participants relate to changes in social networks and social capital, suggesting that outdoor recreation practices are rather vulnerable to disruption as a result of such changes. Interventions like walking groups may therefore offer a more resilient basis for outdoor recreation since members can come and go whilst the continuity of the group is retained. As well as providing a different view on barriers to outdoor recreation, the life history perspective also highlights the experiences through the life course that have helped to shape participants' current participation in outdoor recreation (or lack of it). For some people, experiences and role models of their early years may have just as much influence on outdoor recreation behavior as particular barriers relevant to their current situation. Finally, the identification of key moments of change helps to highlight points at which there may be enhanced opportunities to engage people in outdoor recreation. It should, however, be noted that there are also generational issues to take into consideration here, for instance, getting married and having children may affect outdoor recreation differently now than it did for our participants who may have married more than 70 years ago in some cases. Furthermore, whilst the participants in this study talked specifically about getting married, 'settling down' or finding a long-term partner may be the more salient transition period for the present generation of younger and middle-aged adults.

3.3.4 Awareness of and attitudes towards interventions

Awareness of and recruitment to walking groups

In each case study, several of those participants who were not already engaging in a walking group noted their awareness of existing groups in their area. Some participants were, however, aware only of clubs doing walks that were beyond their ability due to the distance or terrain covered, yet unaware of existing local opportunities for more gentle health walks. Others were aware of these health walks groups but had assumed that they were still beyond what they could manage, although from these participants' descriptions of their abilities this was not necessarily the case. Conversely, some participants were aware of a local health walk group but felt that they would not be challenging enough for them.

Non-group members mentioned becoming aware about local walking groups through the involvement of friends or acquaintances, or seeing the group congregating regularly in a local greenspace. There were a variety of ways that participants who attended walking groups first learned about the group, the most common being through word of mouth from friends or family who already attended. For some, being actively invited or encouraged by friends was central to their decision to get involved:

A friend asked if I'd like join in, and...I probably wouldn't have joined if she hadn't asked me because I'm...not very good at that. But, I just felt that I keep saying 'No!' know, when people ask me to do things, so I thought 'Well, I really ought to'... And I enjoy meeting different people... Yeah it's good...(G1-F-68).

Others heard about the group through doorstep visits promoting local healthy living initiatives, through printed materials (a community centre prospectus), or at the recommendation of a health professional. Several individuals who were already members of such group health walks were aware that their group promoted itself through posters and leaflets, but a number felt that such initiatives should be promoted or 'advertised' more. When discussing how the awareness of local groups might be raised, some participants who did not attend a group recommended placing notices in the local newspaper as well as in local meeting places, doctors' surgeries etc. Some felt that a great deal of information was only available online, which was a problem for the many older people who do not own a computer or are not confident in using one.

One of the Arbroath participants had joined her walking group on the recommendation of her physiotherapist after having hip and knee replacement operations and felt strongly that health professionals had an important role in promoting such interventions:

I wish the physiotherapists or the nurses or the doctors would say to them when they get this done walk more, try and join a group, and walk with the group. I think they should push that more. They don't push it enough. (A6-F-90)

She went on to talk more specifically about how she felt that health professionals working in hospitals should recommend walking groups to those having surgery on their joints as a matter of course as "walking is the answer" when it comes to recovery. One of the more active participants in Grantown-on-Spey had heard about local general practitioners ( GPs) referring patients to join a group. When asked about what they might think if given a 'green prescription' or referral to a walking group from a doctor views were mixed. For example, one participant stated:

I might take heed if he was suggesting something like that. But at the same time I feel that I'm quite fit for an eighty-four year old (A5-M-84)

Another who never participated in outdoor recreation was sceptical:

Oh I'd say 'Oh that'll be right!' (D3-F-72)

Another participant had made efforts to increase her physical activity as a result of a recommendation from a health professional but felt that the challenge she was set was unrealistic:

So that was my green prescription, the cardiologist said to me I must do five hours a week cardiovascular... And I said 'Would a walk not do?', he said 'No! You've to work up a sweat', and I thought 'In your dreams mate, I'm not doing [laughing] five hours cardiovascular' (A1-F-75)

These views on green prescribing suggest that this may be a valuable way to promote outdoor recreation amongst older people and that there is a potential role for both GPs and hospital staff in doing so. However the negative opinions and experiences highlighted here suggest that framing these referrals solely in terms of exercise and keeping fit may be counterproductive in some cases. Where individuals are content with their physical fitness or current levels of activity, framing in terms of the social and mental wellbeing benefits of group walks in nature may be advantageous. Furthermore, recommendations should be sensitive to patients' current levels of activity and perceived ability.

Attitudes towards group walks

Amongst the group walkers, getting exercise and improving fitness were mentioned by some as both motivations for joining a group and benefits experienced as a result of attending. However most of the participants attending walking groups reported the social aspect to be the primary draw or benefit for themselves and for other members of the group:

And I think the thought of a cup of tea or whatever afterwards, I think that's what some people really enjoy - just the social aspect... …Well, it's just lovely to be with some people - some different people. And I think... people who are on their own, you know, it's really important to have this bit of socialising. (G1-F-68)

Participants in the Baxter Park gentle walking group, a large group of 40+ walkers which runs three times a week, noted that they particularly enjoyed the opportunity to mix with other types of people, for example talking to the younger people or those in the group with learning disabilities. It was also felt that walking as part of a group gave safety in numbers, which was particularly important for those who lacked confidence walking alone (see section 3.3.2). At the same time, however, the social nature of group walks can be intimidating at first. For example, one participant talked about how she, being quite introverted and having experienced anxiety issues, had to 'build herself up' to walking with other people. Having support or a familiar face in a group appears to be an important facilitating factor for people thinking about joining groups. Many of the group walkers who participated in the study had the benefit of knowing someone in the group already, which encouraged them to join. Another participant described how his wife had accompanied him on his first group walk:

So she knows quite a few of them with all this keep fit and all the rest of it so she came the first week and met [name of group leader] and various other ones, and I thought that's fine yeah I can cope with this. So I just made it an intention to go every week (D2-M-67)

Having a 'buddy' to go along with on the first visit or two may be particularly helpful for those experiencing mental health problems. For example, one participant talked about how a regular member of her walking group started out attending with the company of a support worker, soon gaining confidence within the group.

Those who did not already participate in group walks also reported mixed attitudes towards the social aspects of these initiatives. Some of these attitudes reflect barriers to outdoor recreation discussed above in section 3.3.2. Whilst some felt that it was that the social aspects would appeal to them the most, others were put off by it due to preferring their own company for walking, wanting to be able to stop and start as they pleased, or feeling that the group setting would reduce the opportunities to see wildlife. Some comments highlighted negative attitudes towards the social climate of a local health walks group:

They just go there for the social chat, they're not serious about it"

Yes it's… a health chat!"

..they yack yack and everybody knows everybody's.. they're all gossiping about one another. (Grantown-on-Spey focus group, females)

Some participants in Arbroath and Grantown-on-Spey noted that the walking groups they had experience of were populated largely by women. A small number of (female) participants felt that this might be a factor which would discourage men from attending. As noted by one male participant the reasons for this imbalance are likely to be complex, yet such an imbalance is not universally seen in clubs for older people:

Now as it happens um...for reasons you'd have to look into very carefully, its 80-90% women. You laugh about laughs about it and says well the men all die off by that age and the women are in charge but um...I went to a poker group for a while which wasn't my scene but I thought I'll just try it. Now that was all men… (G6-M-77).

Although this male participant felt quite comfortable in the company of women, he noted that a small proportion of women in the group were "a bit antagonistic having men at all, they'd prefer they weren't there". These issues around gender in walking groups highlight a number of questions for outdoor recreation participation, for example in establishing how common this skewed female:male ratio is and in understanding the causes and exploring the implications of such imbalances, including identifying potential strategies for overcoming barriers they might pose.

Other attitudes to walking groups tended to centre around perceptions of their difficulty level and how these aligned with individuals' own abilities. Several of the participants who never or very seldom engaged in any recreational walking in the outdoors reported that they would not be able to manage a group walk, primarily because of constraints to their mobility, and felt they would not be able to keep up with others:

Never thought about it, the point is I feel as if with me having a three-wheeler and having to walk that way that people can't be bothered, that's what I think. That's my opinion. I dinna want to be a burden to anybody. (D8-F-91).

When going on to discuss how they would feel about gentle walks with others of the same ability level some of these participants expressed an interest in such a group. Others, however, gave reasons why they would not be likely to get involved such as not having the time, or simply not being interested. A number of more active participants knew of groups doing much more advanced walks which were felt to be too challenging, or in one case, unappealing due to the lack of places to stop for lunch or a coffee on more remote rural routes.

For some health walks groups were perceived to be not challenging enough, or not stretching their abilities:

It's just a wander I think isn't it? It's not a proper walk (G4-Focus group-female)

Sometimes...I think 'Oh gosh, it would be good if we could walk a bit faster', then I think [laughing slightly] 'Well, I'm lucky I can walk faster!'. But, you know, you've got to be tolerant and...and eh...appreciate that everybody can't do the same thing, so... But no, it...I think that the social aspect's very important and not so much the exercise bit (G1-F-68)

Another participant perceived the local health walks group to be targeted at people older than him, although several members were in fact younger:

They're much older than I am! I don't know how old. (G2-M-75)

Members of a health walk group in Arbroath mentioned one person who came to the group once but did not return. They felt that she probably felt that at 60 she was much younger than the others there, and that she was more of an active person. As one commented:

Ours is definitely an age group like.. nae 100% of your health maybe. (A6-F-90).

One walking group member, having regularly attended a gentle health walk was looking forward to seeing an improvement in his mobility after an upcoming operation and displayed an interest in finding out about other walking groups in the area. Groups might therefore usefully highlight other opportunities in the local area to move to a high level of activity or slightly more challenging walk. However, whilst participation may help to increase the ability of some, others may find that deteriorating health may mean that they can no longer manage to attend their regular group. Some participants in Grantown-on-Spey mentioned that until recently they had another group for less able walkers that met at the same time, then both groups would join together for coffee after their walk. Due to a lack of volunteer walks leaders this lower level group had to be discontinued, which was a great loss to some of the former participants. These examples highlight the potential benefits of providing local walking groups at a range of levels, with integration between the groups allowing for movement between as some progress to a higher level and others find that they are no longer to do as much as they previously could.

Participants attitudes towards walking groups also depended upon whether they found the formal, organised nature of such initiatives attractive or not. Having walks planned and organised by someone else was attractive for some as it meant little preparation or effort was needed beforehand, so it was easier to make the decision to attend. Others however felt that this aspect was offputting as they preferred the idea of more informal and flexible approach:

I thought 'No, I want to walk when I want, where I want, and how long I want. I want to dictate what I am going to do'. So...I'd rather get together with the four or five people and say 'Let's go round by this today' or they'll say 'Well, could we go around this way for a change? (A1-F-75)

For one walking group member, continuing to attend regularly was partly down to feelings of obligation towards the walk leader due to the effort they expend in organising the walks and the fact that they are there rain or shine to lead the group.

Awareness of and attitudes towards other types of intervention to promote outdoor recreation

Few other types of initiative other than walking groups were discussed. There were however some mentions of other interventions which are worth highlighting. Two participants in Arbroath were members of a self-organising, self-financing Disabled Ramblers Group. This group goes for day trips on a fortnightly basis during the summer months, taking up to 15 attendees on visits to places like parks, historic houses and gardens and coastal towns which are explored on mobility scooters. These participants highly valued the social benefits of these trips and noted that many of the members never get outdoors otherwise. Such interventions may offer valuable opportunities for disabled people to connect with the outdoors, however for one participant who was more mobile it was questionable whether the use of a mobility scooter was indeed necessary for her to be able to access the outdoors:

Well it was a friend of mine who was in it, and she asked me if I'd like to go. But when I went I was gonna be doing the walking... But 'no no' she says 'As long as there's a scooter, you can take a scooter'... (A3-F-78)

Neither of the participants in the Disabled Ramblers Group described any barriers to participating in the group's activities. When prompted, one participant did identify a number of criteria for selecting appropriate places for the group to visit. These were: having room for the minibus and trailer to park, manoeuvre, load and unload; having access to disabled toilets and a café; and fairly even path surfaces. This participant reported that the group did not have any problems finding places to visit. The only reported constraints faced by the group were financial. The group was limited in terms of the number of people that could attend outings, as funds only permitted the hire of one minibus and wagon. It was also reported that the group was looking for external funding sources as the cost of outings had increased, meaning that the subscriptions paid by individuals have had to be increased.

One participant in Grantown-on-Spey talked positively about the provision of information leaflets on walking routes for all levels of ability in the Cairngorms National Park. He felt that because this information was so freely available "there aren't any barriers… in fact it's the opposite" (G2-M-75). Other participants in Grantown-on-Spey had also heard about 'Green Gym' conservation volunteering opportunities in the area though they were unsure as to what was involved and felt that they would want to know more before they could tell if they were interested.

The idea of walking football was discussed with a couple of participants but was met with some scepticism by both. The attitudes expressed were either that they "wouldn't be any use at it" or that they felt it "looks ridiculous", although one male participant admitted that it might be enjoyable and if there was a group in his area he might go along at least to spectate for a while.

Facilitating older people's engagement in walking groups

The analysis of participants' awareness of and attitudes to walking groups offers a number of conclusions to be made regarding effective facilitation of outdoor recreation engagement through such initiatives. Firstly, it is clear that walking groups are unlikely to be able to adopt a 'one size fits all' approach. Rather having a range of local groups tailored to different levels of ability may better meet the needs of potential users. There also may be value in exploring whether there is appetite locally for 'quiet walking groups' more focused on the landscape and wildlife than socialising for those who are discouraged by some of the social aspects of walking groups but would value the safety of a group. Similarly, for some participants the skewed female:male ratio in walking groups was found to be a possible factor influencing the decision to join the group. This suggests that there may be value in exploring attitudes towards gender-specific groups. However, drivers to tailor interventions to meet different needs must also be balanced with considerations of inclusivity, and this is a tension that may need to be negotiated at the local level and driven by the needs of particular communities. There are also practical limitations to this - opportunities to tailor groups to particular needs also depend on the availability of volunteer walk leaders and the resources available to train and support them.

The case study work revealed that there appear to often be groups of different abilities running in parallel in local areas, supported or affiliated with different organisations. There may be significant opportunities to increase communication and integration between existing groups. For example, producing joint marketing information about the different local walking groups operating at different levels of difficulty could help raise awareness and allow recipients to select the initiative most suited to them. Greater links between existing groups could also help facilitate individuals moving between groups as their ability levels change.

Finally, the analysis points again towards the importance of social capital in older people's decisions about whether to join a group and the benefits experienced that encourage continued participation. To further promote walking groups in communities, groups might consider the opportunities for members to invite less active friends or relatives to join the group for a taster session, or encourage potential new members to bring along a buddy at least until they get to know the other members of the group. Analysis presented here with regards to participants' satisfaction with their current levels of outdoor recreation participation suggest that intrinsic (self-driven) motivations may not be enough to encourage many people to make a change. As well as receiving encouragement from friends or relatives already engaged in groups, there is a great deal of potential for professionals across the health services to promote outdoor recreation or 'green exercise' to patients, not only to increase levels of physical activity but also for social and mental wellbeing objectives. At the same time, walking groups do not have a universal appeal, so other interventions should also be explored.

3.4 Limitations

This section summarises some of the main limitations of the case study work, specifically with respect to the sample's gender imbalance and comparability between case study areas.

Firstly, the sample contained more women than men, although we tried to compensate for this with a few additional people interviewed than originally intended. Previous research has noted that men are less likely than women to participate in community organisations and make less use of local health services, as well as having lower life expectancy (Milligan et al., 2013). These factors may have contributed towards the female:male ratio in the sample. For example the oldest male participant was 84, whereas female participants ranged into their nineties.

Secondly, it is difficult to draw out many differences in barriers to outdoor recreation between the case study areas because: (1) in Grantown-on-Spey participants were more likely to be part of organised walking groups; (2) in Arbroath there seemed to be more people with health problems and disability; (3) potential socio-economic differences between participants in the study areas may have masked area effects. For example, more of those in Grantown-on-Spey were retired professionals as compared to the Arbroath and Dundee participants.


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