Posted on Sep 26, 2023, 4 p.m.
To promote exercise, public health agencies and planners in suburban and rural communities must look beyond cities to incorporate mixed-use communities with streets that are friendlier to bikers and walkers which encourages more active lifestyles. However, research from Cornell University suggests that despite these strategies increasing physical activity, and urban bias limits their application in many parts of the nation.
According to the researchers’ analysis of over 1,300 American cities and counties published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, focusing more on promoting recreational programs, expanding transportation options, and creating safer environments that help an aging population get more exercise is what this country needs.
"These are things we can think about doing in any community," said Mildred Warner, professor of global development and of city and regional planning. "If your community is investing in recreation and social activity, they're more likely to address obesity and other problems linked to physical inactivity."
Their recommendations stemmed from models that were developed to help identify the most important factors influencing physical activity: individual, community, and policy. The models indicate that demographic factors matter the most, showing that communities with higher minority populations exercise less, as do rural communities with populations on average that are older and less affluent. In both cases, this is likely due to lower incomes and longer commute times.
The researchers suggest that planners should work on broadening transportation options and recreation services to better support rural and under-resourced communities, emphasizing the importance of collaboration across the various departments of public health, planning, transportation, and parks and recreation areas. Additional attention should also be placed on concerns about traffic, safety, and crime, as well as policies that promote complete streets or mixed-use neighborhoods.
"Our models show safety is as important as transportation and more important than the built environment," the scholars wrote.
Changes could include lowering the speed limit on rural routes to make them safer for those walking or biking. Another change may be to enable schools, libraries, and fire departments to share facilities for recreation programs, transportation, or food distribution to help overcome limitations on the built environment. Many local governments demonstrated the ability to do business in alternative ways during the recent pandemic, this spirit of collaboration and creativity will be needed as the American population continues to turn gray.
"As more of us get older, we've got to start designing our communities for everybody," Warner said. "We can't just have urban-based recommendations; we also need to think about what you would do in other places."
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
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