New walking app could make later life healthier and happier

Supplementary content information

The prototype app developed at the University of York

‘Walking for Well-Being’, a prototype app that makes it easy to plan less difficult, less demanding walking routes, could help people to stay fit, active and independent as they get older.

Accessible via mobile phone or tablet, it is one of the innovations developed and tested by new research that set out to produce practical, low-cost mobility aids encouraging older people to get out and about and to sustain healthy lifestyles.

The University of York led the research, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) under the Lifelong Health and Wellbeing initiative. The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) provided additional funding.

By highlighting steep slopes, uneven pavements, busy roads and other challenging features that can then be avoided, ‘Walking for Well-Being’ could be used to support people who want to visit friends, access shops and use local services and facilities. It could also highlight green spaces and other features that would make a walking route more pleasant and enjoyable.

Figures from Age UK have shown that 9 per cent of older people in the UK (around 900,000) feel trapped in their own home, while around 6 per cent (nearly 600,000) leave their house once a week or less.

Designed to help tackle this major social problem, the prototype app has been developed using information gathered through co-design workshops with older people, reflecting their needs and preferences. The aim is now to develop the app further for widespread uptake.

Other innovations developed by the project team include a prototype mobility scooter attachment incorporating sensors that measure the quality of the user’s journey, including the smoothness of surfaces the scooter moves over and surrounding air and noise quality. This work has provided new insights into the travel experiences of mobility scooter users and the eventual aim is to work with charitable, healthcare and other organisations to improve mobility scooter design.

The project has pinpointed the need for the general public to realise how their behaviour (such as parking on pavements or not vacating priority seats on buses) can create difficulties for older or disabled people and deter them from going out and staying mobile. The team has also worked with older people to identify solutions for specific mobility problems that they were experiencing on their journeys. Surveys were then undertaken with a wider cross-section of people to see if these solutions would bring other benefits or might cause unexpected problems. This month, in conjunction with the First York bus company, specially commissioned poems conveying key messages highlighted by the process are being displayed on buses across the city, to raise awareness and encourage behaviour change.

Dr Mark Bevan of the Centre for Housing Policy at the University of York, who has led the overall project, says: “We’ve worked with around a hundred people in later life, listening to their needs and learning about the day-to-day challenges they face, especially after a big change in their lives such as losing a partner or giving up driving. Participants discussed many of the things that would help improve getting out and about in later life, and also helped co-design new tools to encourage mobility. In the context of an ageing population, it’s crucial to find creative ways of helping older and disabled people to negotiate the built environment without spending big sums on redesigning or adapting it.” 

For media enquiries contact:

Dr Mark Bevan 
Centre for Housing Policy 
University of York
Tel: 01904 321489 
E-mail: Mark Bevan 

or the

EPSRC Press Office 
Tel: 01793 444 404 
E-mail: Press Office

Specific queries about the ‘Walking for Well-Being’ app:

Professor Helen Petrie 
Department of Computer Science 
University of York 
Tel: 01904 325603 
E-mail: Helen Petrie  

For images of the app:

EPSRC Press Office 
Tel: 01793 444 404
E-mail: Press Office

Notes for Editors:

The Co-design of the Built Environment for Mobility in Later Life project, which began in August 2013 and ends in January 2017, has received a total of nearly £1.25 million in EPSRC funding.

The project involved the following partners: University of Leeds; Newcastle University; Northumbria University; Bradford Institute for Health Research.

For more information on the bus poster campaign, visit University of York website

Lifelong Health and Wellbeing (LLHW):

Established to meet the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population, the cross-Research Council LLHW programme supported research addressing factors throughout life that influence health and wellbeing in older age.

Lifelong Health and Wellbeing programme

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC):

As the main funding agency for engineering and physical sciences research, our vision is for the UK to be the best place in the world to Research, Discover and Innovate. By investing £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, we are building the knowledge and skills base needed to address the scientific and technological challenges facing the nation. Our portfolio covers a vast range of fields from healthcare technologies to structural engineering, manufacturing to mathematics, advanced materials to chemistry. The research we fund has impact across all sectors. It provides a platform for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. We work collectively with our partners and other Research Councils on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK. 

Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC):

The Arts and Humanities Research Council funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: history, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, languages, design, heritage, area studies, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98 million to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits and contributes to the economic success of the UK but also to the culture and welfare of societies around the globe. 

Art and Humanities Research Council website

Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC):

The ESRC is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK Research Councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965 and funded mainly by the Government. 

Economic and Social Research Council website

University of York:

York is a member of the elite Russell Group of universities, and a dynamic, research-intensive university committed to the development of life-saving discoveries and new technologies to tackle some of the most pressing global challenges. Founded on principles of excellence, equality and opportunity for all, it opened in 1963 and is now home to over 30 academic departments and research centres, with a student body of nearly 16,000. 

University of York website

Reference: PN 02-17