Using Built Environment Characteristics to Predict Walking for Exercise

Results of previous studies have been inconsistent about whether the environment close to home affects the likelihood of residents partaking in physical activity. This paper finds no significant association between an individual's surrounding environment and walking for exercise.

Environments conducive to walking are thought most likely to help local residents maintain active lifestyles and, therefore, avoid certain health conditions. This means that built environment factors such as sidewalk availability, recreational facilities and walking paths may all be predictors of residents partaking in more walking or physical activity. So far, however, results from previous studies have been inconsistent.

In this analysis, data for a healthy population in Washington State were analyzed to evaluate whether built environment characteristics near the home made a difference to whether individuals walked for exercise. Data were collected from the Heart and Vascular Health study. Data on 1,608 control participants came from members of Group Health, a large health maintenance organization.

Key Findings:

  • Sixty-two percent of participants reported that they walked for exercise.
  • Older participants and women were more likely to report that they walked for exercise.
  • The researchers found no link between individuals walking for exercise and environmental characteristics.

These findings suggest that environmental factors do not encourage or discourage healthy populations to walk for exercise. More research is necessary to assess the effects of built environments on measures of walking, other physical activities and health outcomes.