Built Environment Characteristics Associated with Physical Activity
Research from the Canada Public Health found that while some aspects of the built environment such as the density of neighborhood businesses are helpful in encouraging walking —a low-to-moderate activity, vigorous intensity activity was more linked more to features such as the length of sidewalks and paths.
Gavin R. McCormack, PhD., Department of Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Introduction: The aim of this study was to estimate the associations between neighbourhood built environment characteristics and transportation walking (TW), recreational walking (RW), and moderate-intensity (MPA) and vigorous-intensity physical activity (VPA) in adults independent of sociodemographic characteristics and residential self-selection (i.e. the reasons related to physical activity associated with a person’s choice of neighbourhood).
Methods: In 2007 and 2008, 4423 Calgary adults completed land-based telephone interviews capturing physical activity, sociodemographic characteristics and reasons for residential self-selection. Using spatial data, we estimated population density, proportion of green space, path/cycleway length, business density, bus stop density, city-managed tree density, sidewalk length, park type mix and recreational destination mix within a 1.6 km street network distance from the participants’ geolocated residential postal code. Generalized linear models estimated the associations between neighbourhood built environment characteristics and weekly neighbourhood-based physical activity participation (≥ 10 minutes/week; odds ratios [ORs]) and, among those who reported participation, duration of activity (unstandardized beta coefficients ).
Results: The sample included more women (59.7%) than men (40.3%) and the mean (standard deviation) age was 47.1 (15.6) years. TW participation was associated with intersection (OR = 1.11; 95% CI: 1.03 to 1.20) and business (OR = 1.52; 1.29 to 1.78) density, and sidewalk length (OR = 1.19; 1.09 to 1.29), while TW minutes was associated with business (B = 19.24 minutes/week; 11.28 to 27.20) and tree (B = 6.51; 2.29 to 10.72 minutes/week) density, and recreational destination mix (B = -8.88 minutes/week; -12.49 to -5.28). RW participation was associated with path/cycleway length (OR = 1.17; 1.05 to 1.31). MPA participation was associated with recreational destination mix (OR = 1.09; 1.01 to 1.17) and sidewalk length (OR = 1.10; 1.02 to 1.19); however, MPA minutes was negatively associated with population density (B = -8.65 minutes/week; -15.32 to -1.98). VPA participation was associated with sidewalk length (OR = 1.11; 1.02 to 1.20), path/cycleway length (OR = 1.12; 1.02 to 1.24) and proportion of neighbourhood green space (OR = 0.89; 0.82 to 0.98). VPA minutes was associated with tree density (B = 7.28 minutes/week; 0.39 to 14.17).
Conclusion: Some neighbourhood built environment characteristics appear important for supporting physical activity participation while others may be more supportive of increasing physical activity duration. Modifications that increase the density of utilitarian destinations and the quantity of available sidewalks in established neighbourhoods could increase overall levels of neighbourhood-based physical activity.
Keywords: physical activity, walkability, neighbourhood, urban form, built environment