Land Use, Residential Density, and Walking

Middle-aged and older adults who live in densely populated areas tend to walk more often. A higher proportion of retail stores in a neighborhood also predicts more walking. Land-use refers to real estate utilization. Examples of land-use categories are: commercial, residential and recreational. Land-use can refer not only to the presence of these entities but also to the proportion of each within a single neighborhood.

This study examined associations between land-use and self-reported walking among a group of adults aged 45 to 84. Data came from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), a long-term study conducted in six U.S. cities. MESA asked whether, how often, and for how much time respondents engaged in specific physical activities. The MESA Neighborhood Study collected data on neighborhood characteristics, creating four land-use categories: retail, residential, institutional and office. The four categories defined parcels of land-use. If a single building contained several entities but also contained retail, the building was a retail parcel. In addition to land-use, this study examined associations between population density and walking. Researchers used U.S. Census data to calculate population density.

Key Findings:

  • A respondent living within walking distance of more retail stores was more likely to walk for transportation.
  • A higher proportion of neighborhood retail was associated with walking for exercise more than 90 minutes per week.

Among the general population, living near a more commercial district has been associated with a more active lifestyle. This study extends to middle-aged and older adults previous findings of correlations between land-use and physical activity.