Living in walkable neighbourhoods linked to more physical activity
10 April 2017
New research from Public Health Ontario found that most people who live in highly walkable neighbourhoods averaged between 10-15 minutes more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day than people who lived in the least walkable neighbourhoods. That added up to about one-half to two-thirds of the 150 minutes per week of physical activity recommended in international guidelines.
A recent paper in CMAJ Open used activity monitors to capture physical activity of 7,180 study participants in various towns and cities in Canada. These participants were divided into groups based on their residential neighbourhood’s walkability score, as defined by Street Smart Walk Score® values. The results found that in all but the youngest study participants (aged 6-11), people in the most walkable urban neighbourhoods did significantly more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity compared to those who lived in the least walkable neighbourhoods.
Physical inactivity and sedentary behaviour are associated with increased risk for chronic disease and serious negative health effects. International guidelines recommend that adults do at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and that children do at least 60 minutes per day. Recent research has shown that most Canadians do not meet these guidelines.
Greater attention is now being paid on improving neighbourhood walkability as a possible means of increasing physical activity. Walkable neighbourhoods are defined as those with a variety of destinations located relatively close to each other, with well-connected streets and adequate green space.
The difference in physical activity was largest among people aged 30-44. In this age group, people in the most walkable neighbourhoods averaged almost 15 minutes per day more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity than people in the least walkable neighbourhoods. People aged 18-29 and 45-64 years also showed large differences. In these age groups, people in the most walkable neighbourhoods averaged about 10 minutes per day more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity than people in the least walkable neighbourhoods.
“Health professionals working to prevent chronic disease could consider this paper and related research showing that people in walkable areas tend to be more physically active. This research may also help inform urban and municipal planners as they consider how to build their communities to take into account healthier living by residents of their towns and cities,” says Justin Thielman, epidemiologist at Public Health Ontario and lead author of the paper.
“The world is facing an obesity crisis, and from a public health perspective, we need to think about ways in which our programs and systems can encourage people to engage in healthier lifestyles. That includes measures like more physical activity and healthier eating to lower the risk of developing chronic diseases,” says Dr. Heather Manson, chief of health promotion, chronic disease and injury prevention at Public Health Ontario and a senior author on the paper.
“We should to look at health more broadly and consider changes that could have widespread impact on people’s day-to-day lives. That may include designing neighbourhoods to make it easier for people to walk to work or run errands rather than getting in cars. Done cumulatively, it all adds up to helping people incorporate physical activity into their daily routine rather than requiring people to build in additional time for exercise,” says Dr. Manson.