Walking for well-being

A new app hopes to make walking easier for the elderly.
16 January 2017

Interview with 

Dr Chris Power, University of York


Man walking on the beach


A new prototype app for smartphones has been made aiming to help older people get out of the house, and go on walks. It’s called ‘Walking for Wellbeing’ and aims to combat the growing numbers of people who find it tricky to get around. Georgia Mills spoke to the University of York’s Dr Chris Power, who was technical lead on the app…

Chris - We do know from reports, such as those that are highlighted on the ‘campaign for loneliness’ that over 51 percent of people do live alone over the age of 75, and that 59 percent of adults that are aged over 52, they report bad health. We know from the work that we’ve done on the project that if you perceive yourself to have bad health, that’s going to prevent you from wanting to undertake the physical activity which will then initiate a cycle of loneliness that’s going to happen in isolation.

So what we want to do as opposed to looking at fitness and trying to drive people out to be more fit, we want to try to encourage them to overcome those things that they may be perceiving as stopping them. So things like perceived barriers in the environment, looking at uneven pavements and other obstructions to their journeys will keep them from getting out. So what we’re trying to do is look at an app that would help people get out from the house and plan journeys that would help them encounter those things that would help them, but avoid some of those obstructions.

Georgia - Okay. So how is the app going to work?

Chris - The app works by having people input a set of preferences regarding things that they would be interested in encountering, so things like heritage or nature, as well as things that they like to avoid. So things like uneven pavements or slippery surfaces, or places where people might park bikes in pedestrian walkways for example, or cars overlapping where they would park on the road. The app has preferences attached to all of those things and it will pull information from the environment. We’re looking at things like open street map and other open-link data sources where we could pull information regarding, for example, bus stops or places that particular shops are, and possibly some crowdsource data.

Then the app will plan particular routes that will take people to those things that they want to see but avoiding those things that they don’t. And this could be either just getting out for a walk or it could be trying to undertake some sort of task like going out to the post office or going out shopping.

Georgia - The demographic this is aimed at is the elderly, but isn’t this also the same demographic the least likely to own a phone and have apps?

Chris - Well that’s certainly changing. So when you look at things like the OfCom report in 2015, we actually find that between 2012 and 2015 there was an increase to over 50 percent uptake of smartphones, and that’s something that is a big change that’s happening. We know from a Deloitte report in 2016 that for people over 55, over 60 percent of them also have a tablet, so we’re certainly seeing those demographics change. Certainly for the’ baby boom’ generation, or as some of my colleagues like to say the ‘rock and roll’ generation, it’s definitely the case that they’re having major uptake of mobile technology.

Georgia - And where are you with this app - when are you hoping to have it rolling out to the public?

Chris - So currently, right now, we’re in a prototype stage. We’ve done a large number of iterations on the prototype and we’re pretty confident that the journeys we’ve designed are solid. We’ve had good feedback in evaluation sessions from our users but right now we don’t have the backend technology implemented. So it’s probably looking at another round of funding to try to get this moved to market and we’re investigating follow-up funding with RCUK and also with INNOVATE UK, possibly looking at venture capital for a spin out in order to be able to get this app to market.

Georgia - I suppose you’ve got to be careful when you do something like this that you don't direct people into a quarry or something like that. You need to get it right first time.

Chris - Exactly. There’s a number of different things we have to look at and one of things such as safety, and documenting the different risks that might come along are really, really important. We wouldn’t want to rush this out.


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