UNC study: Trails, places to excercise, streetlights can boost activity levels

August 28, 2003

CHAPEL HILL -- Trails, streetlights and places where people can engage in physical activity all make a difference in how much they exercise, a new study suggests. When those community design amenities are unavailable, levels of physical activity are lower.

Conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, the study also showed access to trails and other places suitable for exercise to be especially important.

A report on the investigation appears in the September issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion, a special issue devoted to links between community and neighborhood design and health. Related articles are being published in the American Journal of Public Health, to be released simultaneously Thursday (Aug. 28) with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Authors of the UNC study are Dr. Sara L. Huston, research assistant professor of epidemiology at the UNC School of Public Health and cardiovascular epidemiologist with the N.C. DHHS's division of public health; Dr. Kelly R. Evenson, also research assistant professor of epidemiology at UNC; Philip Bors, project officer with the UNC-based Active Living by Design National Program Office; and Dr. Ziya Gizlice of the N.C. DHHS's Center for Health Statistics.

"Physical activity has been shown to improve health and reduce the risk of developing many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer, three of the leading causes of death in the United States," said Huston. "Low levels of physical activity among U.S. adults have also been implicated in the ongoing national epidemic of obesity."

One recent study attributed more than 280,000 deaths in this country each year to people being overweight or obese, she said.

To examine possible links between neighborhood characteristics -- such as places where people can be physically active -- and how much exercise they get, researchers conducted a cross-sectional telephone survey, Huston said.

They called a sample of 1,796 randomly selected adults in North Carolina and asked 133 questions ranging from how much respondents exercised to what traffic was like in their neighborhoods and if there were sidewalks, trails for walking or biking and unattended dogs. Researchers focused on and called residents of Cabarrus, Henderson, Pitt, Robeson, Surry and Wake counties since those counties are widely separated and represent rural, suburban and urban areas.

"We found no association between leisure activity and unattended dogs and only a weak link with heavy traffic," Huston said. "Sidewalks appeared to make only a small positive difference, too.

"But people who reported having access to places for exercise of various kinds and those who reported neighborhood trails were significantly more likely to be getting the recommended amount of physical activity even after we took into account factors like race and years of education," she said.

One unique aspect of the study was its intentionally diverse population, the scientist said.

"We also found that blacks, American Indians and those with less education and lower household incomes were less likely to get the recommended amount of physical activity and reported generally less favorable neighborhood environments and less access to places for physical activity," Huston said.

A related study in September's issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion showed among other things that people who lived in sprawling areas walked less and were more likely than others to have high blood pressure and to be overweight or obese. Another reported how transportation decision-making can support public health objectives by reducing crashes and pollution and boosting exercise levels.

An investigation reported in the American Journal of Public Health revealed that U.S. pedestrians and cyclists were much more likely than those in Germany and Holland to be killed or injured and what can be done to reduce the toll. Others showed how managed urban and suburban development can reduce public and private costs and how better land use planning can reduce contamination of public water supplies from sources such as rain runoff.

"Our primary call to action is that we can create communities that encourage and support health-promoting behavior," said Dr. Richard Killingsworth, guest editor of the AJHP and director of Active Living by Design, a UNC-based public health effort.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation chose the UNC School of Public Health and Killingsworth's program to lead a multi-year, $16.5-million initiative to address such issues. The national initiative will establish innovative approaches to increase physical activity through community design, public policies and communications strategies that can become models for success nationwide.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Related Physical Activity Articles from Brightsurf:

Physical activity in the morning could be most beneficial against cancer
The time of day when we exercise could affect the risk of cancer due to circadian disruption, according to a new study with about 3,000 Spanish people  

Physical activity and sleep in adults with arthritis
A new study published in Arthritis Care & Research has examined patterns of 24-hour physical activity and sleep among patients with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and knee osteoarthritis.

Regular physical activity seems to enhance cognition in children who need it most
Researchers at the Universities of Tsukuba and Kobe re-analyzed data from three experiments that tested whether physical activity interventions lead to improved cognitive skills in children.

The benefits of physical activity for older adults
New findings published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports reveal how physically active older adults benefit from reduced risks of early death, breast and prostate cancer, fractures, recurrent falls, functional limitations, cognitive decline, dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and depression.

Physical activity may protect against new episodes of depression
Increased levels of physical activity can significantly reduce the odds of depression, even among people who are genetically predisposed to the condition.

Is physical activity always good for the heart?
Physical activity is thought to be our greatest ally in the fight against cardiovascular disease.

Physical activity in lessons improves students' attainment
Students who take part in physical exercises like star jumps or running on the spot during school lessons do better in tests than peers who stick to sedentary learning, according to a UCL-led study.

Physical activity may attenuate menopause-associated atherogenic changes
Leisure-time physical activity is associated with a healthier blood lipid profile in menopausal women, but it doesn't seem to entirely offset the unfavorable lipid profile changes associated with the menopausal transition.

Are US adults meeting physical activity guidelines?
The proportion of US adults adhering to the 'Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans' from the US Department of Health and Human Services didn't significantly improve between 2007 and 2016 but time spent sitting increased.

Children from disadvantaged backgrounds do less vigorous physical activity
Children from disadvantaged backgrounds and certain ethnic minority backgrounds, including from Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds, have lower levels of vigorous physical activity, according to researchers at the University of Cambridge.

Read More: Physical Activity News and Physical Activity Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.