Better Neighborhood Leads to Healthier Heart

Cardiovascular health improved for individuals residing in neighborhoods with healthy features

(RxWiki News) The health of your heart appears to be in part related to your access to healthy foods and safe exercise opportunities within your neighborhood.

Those with better neighborhood access to grocery stores or farmer's markets with healthy foods and recreational resources such as parks and walking trails tend to have better cardiovascular health.

"Locate and utilize neighborhood parks and trails."

Erin Unger, study author and medical student at Northwestern University, said that neighborhood factors that can significantly lead to improved heart health include include access to parks and trails where individuals can walk in safety and comfort, and the availability of healthy foods. She noted that the findings were some of the first to indicate neighborhood influence on overall cardiovascular health.

During the study researchers followed 6,047 participants from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). At the beginning of the study they took measurements of cholesterol, body mass index, diet, physical activity, fasting glucose, blood pressure and smoking.

The participants were then categorized as having poor, intermediate or ideal levels of seven heart disease risk factors, and given an overall cardiovascular risk score using the American Heart Association's guidelines. Those with ideal heart health were most likely to be men, under the age of 55, Caucasian and highly educated.

Neighborhood characteristics considered included favorable food stores such as grocery stores or fruit and vegetable markets, unfavorable food stores including convenience stores, liquor stores and fast food restaurants, and recreational facilities.

Investigators also examined socioeconomic status and residents' rankings of aesthetic quality, walking environment, healthy food availability, safety and sense of community.

“This study demonstrates the importance of where we live. Our neighborhood can play a significant role in our health,” Unger said.

The study, which is considered preliminary because it has not yet been published, was March 14 at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2012 Scientific Sessions.

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Review Date: 
March 14, 2012