Access to outdoor recreation by older people in Scotland

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

4. Conclusions

A number of conclusions can be drawn from the spatial analysis carried out in section 2 and the case study analysis discussed in section 3. These are listed below in relation to the project's research questions.

How does the spatial distribution of older people, including those with disabilities, differ from that of the population as a whole?

  • There is a tendency for older people and older people with disabilities to be over-represented in remote/very remote small towns and rural areas ( i.e. compared to the national average). On average, the number of people aged 65 or above was approximately 30% higher than expected in remote small towns and very remote rural areas, and 24% higher than expected in remote rural areas. Likewise, the number of people aged 85 or above was nearly 50% higher than expected in remote small towns, and just over 20% in very remote small towns, remote and very remote rural areas. Similar patterns were observed for older people with a limiting long-term health problem or disability.
  • The high concentrations of potentially vulnerable older people and older people with disabilities in remote and very remote small towns require careful consideration, despite the larger overall numbers of older and disabled people in urban areas.

Do participants want to engage more with the outdoors?

  • There is a tendency towards acceptance or stoicism regarding current levels of engagement. Few participants expressed a desire to engage more.
  • Outdoor recreation is not a clear cut concept, and the definitions used in policy and practice may not necessarily correspond with the interpretations and meanings of outdoor recreation held by older people. The research revealed that these meanings may depend on what is most salient to the individual for their wellbeing, for example getting sufficient physical activity and social contact may be emphasised more than being active in the 'great outdoors'. The setting is not necessarily seen as being as important for wellbeing as getting out and about and seeing other people.
  • Physical activity is important to many participants, however this often takes place through active travel or recreational walking in the built environment; reasons for this include remaining purposeful and desiring social stimulation. In rural areas the distinction between built and natural environments may be less meaningful to residents.
  • The findings suggest that many older people live busy and active lives and other activities may take precedence over outdoor recreation.

What barriers discourage or prevent them from accessing the outdoors?

  • By and large older people seem to experience multiple, and inter-related, barriers preventing them from participating in outdoor recreation.
  • The main barriers identified in the interviews were: health and mobility; social connections; fragility and vulnerability; time commitments and motivation; weather and season; and safety.
  • The interplay and interactions between barriers are important as the co-occurrence of multiple barriers is common and intensifies the effect of individual barriers to participate in outdoor recreation.
  • Investigating moments of change has highlighted how and when barriers emerge in people's lives and provides a valuable perspective on how interventions might best be timed during the life course. The key moments of change identified were: getting married and having children; children growing up; moving to a new area; retirement; the onset of health problems; spouses or friends passing away; and dogs passing away.

How can we facilitate greater use of the outdoors amongst older people?

  • Interventions need to take into consideration the interactions between barriers and should aim to address multiple barriers simultaneously.
  • Social connections are central to older peoples' engagement in outdoor recreation. Interventions with a social element, like walking groups, may offer a more resilient basis for outdoor recreation since members can come and go whilst the continuity of the group is retained. The life history analysis revealed 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 vulnerable to disruption as a result of such changes. Therefore, interventions may benefit from positioning themselves more in terms of social benefits than physical activity.
  • It may be useful to increase communication and integration between existing groups running in parallel in local areas. For example, producing joint marketing information about the different local walking groups operating at different levels of difficulty could help raise awareness and participation.
  • It may be useful to tailor interventions to suit people of different abilities and preferences and to clearly advertise the interventions as such. There may be value in considering single sex groups or 'quiet walking groups' for example. We acknowledge that this may be constrained by the availability of volunteer leaders.
  • The finding that most participants were satisfied with or accepting of their current level of participation suggests that addressing the barriers to outdoor recreation may not be enough and highlights the importance of actively encouraging greater uptake in this group ( e.g. through green prescriptions).


Email: Graeme Beale,

Back to top