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Your neighborhood might affect your exercise habits

by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: June 20, 2013

On a nice day, I might walk to the grocery store. It’s not far from our home, and it’s nice to get some sun when you spend too much time sitting indoors.

But taking a walk in Oklahoma City sometimes feels like playing chicken. I have taken my dog on walks in various parts of the city, and sometimes, it can get kind of dicey. A sidewalk will end abruptly, leaving you to walk in the road or along a narrow patch of grass.

Oklahoma City is attempting to remedy the issues the city faces related to walkability and public transit, and a recent study suggests better designed neighborhoods might inspire people to be more active.

Study name: Do Neighborhoods Make People Active, or Do People Make Active Neighborhoods? Evidence from a Planned Community in Austin, Texas

The study’s focus: 

Whether patterns of physical activity in different communities can be attributed to the built environment or instead reflect self-selection is not well understood. The objective of this study was to examine neighborhood preferences and behavior-specific physical activity among residents who moved to a new urbanist-designed community.

Where the people lived: 

The study looked at people who lived in Mueller, a mixed-use urban village in Austin, Texas.

At the time of data collection (May – August 2009), 324 acres of the 700-acre development had been completed, including 424 homes, 400,000 square feet of retail space, 890,000 square feet of commercial and office space, and 70 acres of the 140 acres of planned parks and open spaces, including 5 miles of trails. The institutional review boards for the Boston University Medical Center and University of Texas Health Science Center – Houston approved the study.

Some of the interesting things they found:

The study breaks people into three categories — low-activity, middle-activity and high-activity.

All three groups reported substantial increases in recreational walking inside the neighborhood.

Although respondents may have decided to move to Mueller partly on the basis of their desired level of physical activity, the environment itself also seemed to play a role in their decision.

The biggest increase in physical activity was seen among those who were the least active before moving to Mueller.

More specifically, the low-activity group had the most significant increase in walking and biking for recreation inside the neighborhood and was the only group to increase transport-related physical activity after moving to Mueller.

However, the high-activity group reported attaching a higher level of importance to neighborhood characteristics that are supportive of these behaviors.

by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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