That holds true even when controlling for factors including age, income, and how many fast food restaurants are nearby, said the study’s lead author Wesley Marshall, an associate professor of civil engineering at the University of Colorado Denver.
A separate study published this year found that people living in activity-friendly neighborhoods got up to 89 more minutes per week of exercise than those in neighborhoods that weren’t as conducive to walking, biking, or the use of public transit, which also encourages walking, said the study’s lead author James Sallis, distinguished professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego.
That’s important news for city planners and residents themselves since the American Heart Association suggests getting at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. For those who don’t have easy, affordable access to gyms or even fresh, healthy food, exercise that’s built into the daily routine is especially important, said Olga Gonzalez of LiveWell Colorado, an organization that fights obesity.
“When people look to buy a house, they don’t really think, ‘Which house will give me a better chance of being a healthier person,’” Marshall told Transamerica’s New Age of Advice. “It seems like a crazy way to think about it, but it does matter.”
Not all neighborhoods have well-lit, well-kept sidewalks, safe bike paths, or enough destinations where people would want or need to walk, like a grocery store, park, doctor’s office, workplace, or school.
Decisions over the years to allow for roads wide enough to move more cars quickly from one point to another may have made it easier to drive places rather than bike or walk, Sallis said.
“The way we design cities is really fueling inactivity and chronic disease,” Sallis said.
It’s unclear whether walkable neighborhoods are solely responsible for lowering rates of chronic disease or whether healthier people are drawn to live in walkable neighborhoods.