Fit Communities, Fit Families

Walkable neighborhoods increased physical activity

(RxWiki News) Many families struggle to get enough exercise. Making physical activity a daily habit can improve fitness. Effective physical activity can be as simple as walking or biking around the neighborhood.

A new study found that neighborhoods may play a large role in how much exercise residents get.

The study found that people who moved into a neighborhood with sidewalks, parks and nearby shops started walking more and became more active overall.

"Get your family more active by finding facilities close to home."

Tamara Calise, DrPH, MEd from John Snow, Inc. Public Health Consulting, and colleagues from Boston University School of Public Health, Federal University of Pelotas and the University of Texas School of Public Health conducted this study to see if neighborhood environment influences patterns of physical activity.

The researchers used data from a 2009 survey which asked questions about neighborhood preferences. The survey asked 150 questions. Some of the questions were about physical activity habits before and after moving to a new urbanist-designed community.

The study authors described an urbanist-style neighborhood as having homes close to each other with connected street networks. This type of neighborhood also has recreational facilities and mixed land-use, where businesses are next to homes.

A total of 267 people completed the survey. These survey participants were grouped by their physical activity level before they moved to a new neighborhood. Activity levels were categorized as low, middle or high activity.

The study defined physical activity as walking or biking for recreation or for transportation. The study also included moderate and vigorous intensity physical activity, which would include things like sports, gardening and housework.

The low activity group had the largest increase in physical activity after moving. People in this group got an average 176 minutes more activity weekly than before moving.

The middle activity level group got an average of 70 more minutes of physical activity after the move to the new neighborhood.

The high activity level group continued to be more active than the low and middle-activity groups. However, the high activity participants got 68 minutes less physical activity than before moving.

All three groups walked in their neighborhood significantly more after moving to the new neighborhood.

"For years we have known that place — where we live, work, play — matters in health," Harold Kohl, PhD, one of the authors of this study, told dailyRx News.

"We are now learning that place, the way neighborhoods are developed, constructed, and maintained matters for physical activity. The environment in which we live can both promote or inhibit physical activity that helps people be healthier," Dr. Kohl said.

Survey participants frequently said that walkability, such as being close to parks, recreational facilities and shops was why they became more physically active.

The authors of this study said that one possible weakness of their study was that the survey asked participants to remember their own physical activity levels.

The authors also pointed out that the survey participants may have moved to this neighborhood because they wanted to be more active, which could have an impact on the study results.

The researchers also noted that the survey participants may have felt social pressure when answering the survey. Sometimes when answering surveys, participants feel pressure to say that they get more physical activity than they actually do. They may think this is what the person taking the survey wants to hear, or they may feel embarrassed by low levels of inactivity.

Jack Newman, CEO of Austin Tennis Academy, told dailyRx News, "This study confirms what we know about our own tennis business, that proximity counts. Convenience to fitness and athletic facilities is crucially important to getting onto a regular schedule of activity."

This report was published online June 20 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The research was funded by a grant from the US Department of State Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The authors reported no conflict of interest.

Review Date: 
July 30, 2013