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How the Right Neighborhood Helps You Stay Healthy

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How the Right Neighborhood Helps You Stay Healthy

Research shows bustling city centers promote physical activity

Be sure to get the recommended physical activity each day by moving to a bustling neighborhood. Research shows people who live in activity-friendly neighborhoods get at least 90 more minutes of exercise a week than other city dwellers.

The study, which included more than 6,800 adults, aged 18 to 66, in 14 cities in 10 countries, found that on average, study participants did 37 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity, such as brisk walking or more intense exercise. Among the cities in the study, Baltimore had the lowest average rate of activity (about 29 minutes a day) and Wellington, New Zealand, had the highest (slightly more than 50 minutes a day).

But participants in bustling neighborhoods—those with high residential density, a large number of intersections and public transit stops, and parks within walking distance—exercised up to an hour and a half more each week, according the study.

“Neighborhoods with high residential density tend to have connected streets, shops and services—meaning people will be more likely to walk to their local shops,” study lead author James Sallis, from the University of California, San Diego, said in a news release. “Interestingly, distance to nearest transport stop was not associated with higher levels of physical activity, whereas the number of nearby transport stops was. This might mean that with more options, people are more likely to walk further to get to a transport stop that best meets their needs. The number of local parks was also important, since parks not only provide places for sport, but also a pleasant environment to walk in.”

Globally, physical inactivity is directly connected to more than 5 million deaths each year. This study, published in the April 1 issue of The Lancet, suggests designing healthier cities can help tackle the problem of physical inactivity.

The “total health gained by changing to optimal activity-friendly environments will be close to 2 million fewer deaths and around 3 percent fewer non-communicable diseases,” Shifalika Goenka, of the Public Health Foundation of India, wrote in an accompanying Lancet editorial. “We need interventions to counter the rapidly growing inactivity that urbanization leads to, by providing environments that change the way we live our daily lives. It is high time that built environments provide the quadruple boost toward health, environment, equity (or public good) and habitat.”

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BHM Edit Staff