The Health Benefits of Walkable Neighbourhoods

Walking is an easy and affordable form of exercise: it does not require special equipment or training, and you can do it almost anywhere. But it can be a challenge to incorporate walking into your everyday activities as exercise if you rely on a car to make your daily commute, travel to family activities, and run errands. If you, like most Canadians, find it difficult to get 150 minutes of vigorous weekly exercise as recommended by the WHO and the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, the design of your neighbourhood could be part of the challenge.

Walkability is a measure of how easily an urban area can be navigated on foot. Walkable neighbourhoods tend to be densely-populated, with housing located near community resources like schools, stores, restaurants, churches, parks, and other public spaces. Streets are designed with all users in mind, with sidewalks, crosswalks, curb cuts, and other features that create a safe and pleasant atmosphere. These elements make it possible for residents to accomplish most of their daily tasks without using a car, which reduces traffic and air pollution, leads to greater physical activity, and can have important positive impacts on health: Research shows that Canadians who live in the most walkable neighbourhoods have the lowest rates of obesity and diabetes.

Of course walkability is not a consideration for all of us. For those Canadians who live in rural areas, daily use of a vehicle is a fact of life. But if you are purchasing a home in a more populated neighbourhood, it’s worth considering how your home’s location can influence healthy habits. Looking up your neighbourhood’s Walk Score may help you to assess factors such as street connectivity; the types and frequency of intersections; the availability of public transportation; and access to area destinations, all of which could impact your levels of physical activity, community engagement, and overall health.

In the U.S., walkability has been identified as a public health priority by the Surgeon General, who established the Step It Up! campaign to promote walkable communities. To learn more about walkability in Ottawa and other Canadian cities, visit: http://canadawalks.ca/