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Evidence Summary

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Features of built environments positively correlate with walking rates among older adults

Farkas Brenlea, Wagner D, Nettel-Aguirre A, Friedenreich C, McCormack G. Evidence synthesis - A systematized literature review on the associations between neighbourhood built characteristics and walking among Canadian adults Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention in Canada. 2019; 19(1): 1-14.

Review question

      Is there an association between built environments and walking rates among Canadian adults?

Background

      Walking is a popular physical activity that requires no special ability, skill, cost, or equipment.

      By contributing to physical activity levels, walking helps reduce the risk of chronic health conditions like cardiovascular disease, depression, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. Despite these benefits, many older adults do not undertake enough physical activity.

      Research suggests that the built environment has the potential to both encourage and discourage physical activity.

      Creating neighbourhood built environments that support physical activity may be one approach to increasing physical activity among older adults and in turn, decrease the economic burden of chronic health conditions in Canada.

      The aim of this review is to estimate the association between the built environment and walking among Canadian adults.

How the review was done

      Study authors conducted a detailed search of 5 research databases up to December 31, 2016.

      In addition to the database searches, authors scanned the reference lists of relevant literature reviews and articles that were deemed eligible for a comprehensive review.

      Studies were included if they estimated the association between the built environment and physical activity among a sample of Canadian adults.

      4,140 articles were retrieved from the initial search, of which 25 were included in this review.

      Study authors declared no conflict of interest. 

What the researchers found

      Among the included studies, Quebec was the most frequently reported study location, followed by Alberta, British Columbia, then Ontario. No studies were specifically undertaken in the three territories (Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and Yukon), though data from the territories were included in the two studies using national data.

      From the review, authors found that there was a distinct association between overall neighbourhood walkability (for example, Walk Score) and likelihood of walking for transportation purposes. Specifically, they found that a higher level of neighbourhood walkability was positively associated with participation, duration, frequency and volume of transportation walking.

      Review findings suggested that land use (for example, having a mix of destinations) is important for encouraging walking overall. Being close to destinations popular among adults was associated with greater participation and frequency of walking.

      As much, improving the walkability of neighbourhoods overall and increasing land use mix and proximity to destinations can potentially increase the physical activity levels of Canadian adults and in turn improve population health.

      Interestingly, evidence from the Canadian studies did not find a significant association between safety and aesthetic characteristics of the built environment and walking.

Conclusion

      Within Canada, current evidence suggests that the neighbourhood built environment is associated with walking frequency. Improving neighbourhood walkability, land use, and proximity to destinations may encourage or support higher levels of walking among older adults, and in turn contribute to better health outcomes among Canadians.




Glossary

Vascular
The body's network of blood vessels. It includes the arteries, veins, and capillaries that carry blood to and from the heart.

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