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Urban design can promote walking

13 July 2016

People who live in the most ‘activity-friendly’ neighbourhoods in the world do up to 1.5 hours more physical activity a week than those in the least supportive neighbourhoods.

This is what a study summarized by the European Commission for their Science for Environment Policy newsletter shows. The new international study measured levels of exercise — mainly walking for recreation or transport — in relation to the urban environment across 14 diverse cities. The results show how urban design — such as parks and local amenities — can promote healthy lifestyles which also bring environmental benefits, such as better air quality, through reduced car use. This study explores the link between the urban environment and exercise by providing objective data on activity levels in a diverse range of cities. Data were used from 6 822 participants in the study who wore accelerometers around their waist for 4–7 days. Participants lived in one of 14 cities across 10 countries (Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, China (Hong Kong), Mexico, New Zealand, the UK and the USA).

Globally, physical inactivity is responsible for 5 million deaths per year through its effects on diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. It is known that people who live in very ‘walkable’ neighbourhoods tend to be more physically active than those in less walkable areas.

Three urban features were strongly associated with higher activity levels:

  • · High residential density.
  • · High density of public transport stops
  • · Parks.

The study recommends that decision makers in the public health, environmental, transport and park sectors work together to promote physical activity as way of cutting air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and energy usage, whilst achieving health benefits.

The full study can be accessed here.

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