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Pleasant Surroundings Boost Walking Habits

Aesthetics and shopping count for more than traffic, crime, study shows

FRIDAY, Nov. 3, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- The availability of pleasant, shopping-friendly locales is more likely to influence whether or not people walk regularly than factors such as traffic or crime, a new study finds.

Researchers at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, analyzed questionnaires filled out by 351 people. They were asked about their attitudes toward walking; how much they walked; whether there were paths, trails, parks or recreational facilities near their homes; and their thoughts about local neighborhoods and walking areas.

The team found that neighborhood aesthetics and the mix of retail stores were more important that local crime levels or traffic in terms of motivating people to walk.

The most surprising finding was the strong link between a person's intention to walk and actually doing it, if they had a good place to walk. In other words, if a person wanted to walk, having a good place to walk made it more likely to happen. However, a good place to walk had no impact if the person had no intention to walk in the first place.

The study is published in the November/December issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.

"These findings are not going to translate into getting people to walk more," John Librett, an adjunct professor at Utah College of Health in Salt Lake City, said in a prepared statement. He was not involved in the study.

However, he said the findings should prompt community planners to consider how the design of neighborhoods and urban areas affects people's walking behavior. Redesigning old neighborhoods and creating new ones that promote walking is good for public health, Librett noted.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about the benefits of walking.

SOURCE: Center for the Advancement of Health, news release, Oct. 31, 2006
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