What if we could boost our overall wellness by making fitness a regular part of the day without even having to think about it?
Studies suggest our neighborhoods can play a big part in our wealth and health.
Financially speaking, for homeowners, neighborhoods that have amenities like parks and schools within walking distance can command higher prices, according to Redfin. The real estate brokerage reports that an increase of one “Walk Score” point can boost the price of a home by about 0.9 percent.
The National Association of Realtors has found that having easy access to parks and recreational facilities is especially important to Millennials, according to its 2017 Generational Trends report.
“Almost a quarter of Millennial home buyers do find convenience to parks and recreational facilities important factors in choosing a neighborhood,” said Jessica Lautz, managing director of survey research and communications for the association.
When searching for a home, 54% of consumers say they want to be near a walking path, Lautz said. One possible reason? Pets. The National Association of Realtors says 61% of U.S. households have an animal or plan to get one.
“If you have to take the dog out a few times a day, it’s nice to have a path for your pet to enjoy, but it’s also nice for you to enjoy,” Lautz said.
There can be health benefits to a walkable neighborhood too.
Residents in areas with compact street networks, where there are shorter blocks and plenty of intersections where people can cross the street safely, tend to have lower rates of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, according to a study in the Journal of Transport & Health.
The study’s lead author, Wesley Marshall, said those findings held true even when controlling for factors including age and income. Marshall and his co-authors even considered whether the number of fast food restaurants nearby affected the rates of chronic disease.
“In the end, the street network still made a difference,” Marshall said.
“It’s not like if you live in a place where you can’t walk and bike that it’s impossible to be healthy. Because you can go to the gym – there’s a lot of ways to do it.” Marshall said. “But there are places where you just get that exercise as part of your daily routine, and you don’t really think about it.”
That’s especially important for people who can’t get to the gym or don’t have access, he said.
Who needs a gym in a fitness-friendly neighborhood?
Activity-friendly neighborhoods can make a difference in how much weekly exercise people get – a big difference. One study showed people living in activity-friendly neighborhoods got up to 89 more minutes per week of exercise than those that weren’t as conducive to walking, biking, or using public transit. Taking the bus or train also encourages walking, said the study’s lead author, James Sallis, distinguished professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego.
Making it easy for people to walk or bike to work, the doctor, the library, grocery store, school, or parks can help restore some of the activity that has gradually disappeared from everyday life, Sallis contends.
“We’ve made millions of decisions that have driven trillions of dollars of investments in how we build our cities so that it’s no longer possible for most people to walk and bike where they want to go,” he said. “So even if they’re motivated to walk or bike, distances are too far or it’s too dangerous.”
Decades ago, people may have spent hours cutting firewood or harvesting large fields of crops. Today, many adults may be sitting at a desk, typing, or clicking and dragging a mouse instead.
Not only is the work world being mechanized and computerized, but so is the way children play.
“Kids play games with thumbs indoors rather than arms and legs outdoors,” Sallis said in a phone interview. “That’s why we’ve got an epidemic of not only inactivity but all the chronic disease related to it. We see that certainly in the U.S. and increasingly in low-income countries.
“The way we design cities is really fueling inactivity and chronic disease,” Sallis said.
Rethinking the criteria for buying a home
That’s why a neighborhood that encourages walking or biking, plus interaction with neighbors, could get us to move more – and fend off chronic disease.
Anything that makes it easier to fit in 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week can help your heart health, the American Heart Association says.
“When people look to buy a house, they don’t really think, ‘Which house will give me a better chance of being a healthier person,’” Marshall said. “It seems like a crazy way to think about it, but it does matter.”
Things to Consider:
• When buying a home, it may help both your finances and your fitness to consider if it’s in a walkable neighborhood.
• Check out a home’s Walk Score to see how many amenities are within walking distance.
• If you live in an activity-friendly neighborhood, take advantage! If you don’t, just know you may have to make an extra effort to get some exercise each day.