Safe, friendly neighborhoods may encourage exercise

December 08, 2003

The better residents feel about their neighborhood, the more likely they may be to get enough exercise, according to a new report in the December issue of Health Education & Behavior.

Using a scale designed to measure favorable neighborhood attributes, researchers from Saint Louis University found that people with a higher regard for their community were more likely to get the recommended amount of weekly physical activity.

And as perceptions of a community rose, so did the likelihood of meeting the recommendations: A 10-point rise in the researchers' scale corresponded to a 12 percent increase in the likelihood of getting enough exercise.

However, further analysis suggests that the association between good neighborhoods and physical activity may hold true only for white people and those living at certain income levels, say Laura K. Brennan, Ph.D., M.P.H., and colleagues.

The link between neighborhood perception and exercise is particularly significant among those making between $10,000 and $20,000 and those making more than $35,000 a year, the researchers found.

Age was the only significant factor related to physical activity among black study participants, with younger participants more likely to meet exercise recommendations. Younger participants across all income levels were also more likely to meet recommendations.

Brennan and colleagues analyzed data from a phone survey of 1,818 people nationwide. Survey participants answered questions about their general health, levels of physical activity and how they felt about certain aspects of their community, including whether they lived in a close-knit community, had helpful and trusted neighbors and felt safe from crime.

The researchers acknowledge that their findings should be combined with more objective measures of a community's features to better understand how the environment affects activity.

"Although the community itself may have many assets, all community members may not perceive these strengths to be important or accessible to them," Brennan says.

About one-fifth of the participants said they were in fair or poor health and just under half failed to meet the national recommendations for weekly exercise. Almost 250,000 of the total number of deaths in the United States each year can be attributed to physical inactivity, the researchers note.
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The study was supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including support from the Community Prevention Study of the NIH Women's Health Initiative.

BY BECKY HAM, SCIENCE WRITER
HEALTH BEHAVIOR NEWS SERVICE

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Health Behavior News Service: (202) 387-2829 or www.hbns.org.
Interviews: Contact Laura Brennan at (314) 977-4001 or brennan@slu.edu.
Health Education & Behavior: Contact Elaine Auld at (202) 408-9804.

Center for Advancing Health

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