Risk factors

Physical activity needs walkability: a call for healthy city design

The neighborhood a patient lives in should be considered in treatment plans and recommendations for physical activity, the CSANZ 2018 meeting was told.

Emeritus Professor Jim Sallis, from the University of California San Diego and the Australia Catholic University, said the built environment has an enormous impact on levels of physical activity.

A body of research has confirmed that the ‘walkability’ of a city – a combination of higher population density, more interconnected streets and mixed land use – is significantly associated with objectively measured levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.

And the research, conducted across 14 cities in 10 countries including New Zealand, is applicable to all sociodemographic groups.

It also applies at every level of mobility. People with low, medium or high levels of mobility are more likely to be active if they live in walkable neighborhoods.

As well as its contribution to physical wellbeing, being active helps people stay connected and engaged in their community.

Professor Sallis said residents of high density cities like Hong Kong and New York, where people can readily access a wide range of services and employment via walking and active means of transport, are likely to do 68-89 minutes of physical activity per week more than people in less dense cities.

This is a solid start to achieving the recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.

Currently about a third of adults fail to meet physical activity guidelines.

“Actively commuting to work is correlated with meeting physical activity guidelines and inversely correlated with obesity and inversely correlated with diabetes,” Professor Sallis said.

He added that about 2 million deaths could be prevented if all adults lived in communities that support physical activity.

Professor Sallis called for health professionals to become advocates for healthier city designs and transport polices.

“We can’t just do one thing; we need a combination of strategies,” he said.

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