Abstract

Background

Walkability is positively associated with physical activity in adults. Walkability is more consistently associated with walking for transportation than recreational walking. The purpose of this study is to examine how the association between walkable neighbourhoods and physical activity varies by age and type of physical activity using a new Canadian walkability database.

Data and methods

The 2016 Canadian Active Living Environments (Can-ALE) database was attached to two cross-sectional health surveys: the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS; 2009 to 2015) and the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS; 2015 to 2016). Physical activity was measured in the CHMS using the Actical accelerometer (n = 10,987; ages 3 to 79). Unorganized physical activity outside of school among children aged 3 to 11 was reported by parents in the CHMS (n = 4,030), and physical activity data by type (recreational, transportation-based, school-based, and household and occupational) was self-reported by respondents in the CCHS (n = 105,876; ages 12 and older).

Results

Walkability was positively associated with accelerometer-measured moderate-to-vigorous physical activity in youth (p < 0.05), younger adults (p < 0.0001) and older adults (p < 0.05), while walkability was negatively associated with light physical activity in youth (ages 12 to 17) and older adults (ages 60 to 79) (p < 0.05). Walkability was positively associated with self-reported transportation-based physical activity in youth (p < 0.001) and adults of all ages (p <  0.0001). Walkability was negatively associated with parent-reported unorganized physical activity of children aged 5 to 11, and children living in the most walkable neighbourhoods accumulated 10 minutes of physical activity less—on average—than those living in the least walkable neighbourhoods.

Interpretation

The results of this study are consistent with previous studies indicating that walkability is more strongly associated with physical activity in adults than in children and that walkability is associated with transportation-based physical activity. Walkability is one of many built environment factors that may influence physical activity. More research is needed to identify and understand the built environment factors associated with physical activity in children and with recreational or leisure-time physical activity.

Keywords

exercise, built environment, walkability, walking, transportation

DOI: https://www.doi.org/10.25318/82-003-x201900900001-eng

Findings

Physical activity is positively associated with a wide range of physical, psychological, social and cognitive health outcomes in children, youth and adults. The most recent national statistics indicate that the majority of Canadians do not achieve the recommended levels of physical activity and that levels of physical activity have remained stable over the past decade. The need to increase levels of physical activity among the population has resulted in calls to identify features of the built environment that contribute positively to physical activity and health. The activity friendliness of a neighbourhood is commonly assessed using walkability, which is a measure of how well a neighbourhood’s built form promotes walking. Walkability generally consists of multiple subcomponents, including proximity to destinations of interest (e.g., shops, services, workplaces, schools), street connectivity (number of intersections, route options, directness of routes) and residential density (which can support destinations of interest). A newly developed walkability index—the Canadian Active Living Environments (Can-ALE) database—is a geography-based set of measures that represents the active living friendliness or walkability of Canadian communities. [Full article]

Authors

Rachel C. Colley (rachel.colley@canada.ca), Tanya Christidis and Michael Tjepkema are with the Health Analysis Division, and Isabelle Michaud is with the International Cooperation and Methodology Innovation Centre at Statistics Canada, Ottawa, Canada. Nancy A. Ross is with the Geo-Social Determinants of Health Research Group in the Department of Geography at McGill University, Montréal, Quebec.

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What is already known on this subject?

  • Physical activity is positively associated with health.
  • Many Canadians do not meet the current physical activity guidelines.
  • Features of the built environment such as street connectivity, proximity to services and residential density have been associated with increased physical activity.

What does this study add?

  • Using a new Canadian measure of walkability or “activity friendliness”, this study confirms previous research that has reported a positive association between walkability and physical activity in adults as well as a positive association between walkability and transportation-based physical activity.
  • Walkability was not associated with physical activity in children aged 3 to 11. Children living in the least walkable neighbourhoods accumulated, on average, 10 minutes more unorganized physical activity per day than children living in the most walkable neighbourhoods.

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