Background The possibility of gender differences in walking practices has largely been ignored, but an understanding of whether and how walking practices differ between men and women would usefully inform interventions to promote walking. The aim of this systematic review was to examine gender differences in walking for leisure, transport and in total in adults, and to assess whether gender differences in walking practices change across the adult life-course.
Methods Web of Science Core Collections, PubMed and the Transportation Research International Documentation databases were searched to identify relevant studies, as well as reference lists of included studies. Papers providing quantitative data on the walking of both men and women aged 18 years and above in a high-income country and published between 1995 and 2015 were identified. Data assessed as high quality were extracted and results were synthesised using forest plots and narrative summary.
Results Of the 24 498 studies retrieved by the search strategy, 36 studies were included. Most (30) studies reported data on the prevalence of walking for a minimum duration, usually 10 min per week, either in total or for a specific purpose. Of these, 6 of 6 studies combining all ages found that more women than men walked for leisure (Odds Ratios (ORs) 1.12–1.47). There was no evidence of a gender difference in overall walking for transport (ORs 0.78–1.11 for 3 studies combining all ages), but 3 of 3 studies found that more women than men walked to undertake errands (ORs 1.08–2.97). 5 of 6 studies combining all ages reported no gender difference in total walking (ORs 0.90–1.39). 6 studies reported on walking for leisure by age group; more young women than young men walked for leisure (ORs 1.54–1.99), but this difference consistently declined with age such that in the oldest age groups it had disappeared or reversed (ORs 0.63–0.96). There was some evidence for a similar pattern in overall walking.
Conclusion While we found no gender difference in participation in walking overall, we did find consistent gender differences in participation in walking for some purposes, including for leisure, and that there are gender differences in the impact of age on walking. We conclude that more research is needed to improve our understanding of how walking fits into the lives of women and men across the life-course, especially in relation to gender differences in the impact of ageing on walking.
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