July 8, 2014 5:59 pm
Updated: November 25, 2014 11:36 am

More walkable neighbourhoods can reduce risk of diabetes: study

Watch above: Dr. Samir Gupta explains why walkability matters

TORONTO – Walkable neighbourhoods motivate people to move – and it lowers their risk of diabetes, according to new research.

The research, presented to the American Diabetes Association suggested people who live in walkable neighbourhoods have a “substantially lower rate of obesity” and diabetes.

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Global News

A walkable neighbourhood usually has accessible transit, amenities, trails and safe sidewalks and street crossings – the difference between living in the typical suburb and downtown Toronto.

“This is one piece of a puzzle that we can potentially do something about. As a society, we have engineered physical activity out of our lives,” Dr. Gillian Booth from St. Michael’s Hospital said in a press release. “Every opportunity to walk, to get outside, to go to the corner store or walk our children to school can have a big impact on our risk for diabetes and becoming overweight.”

People living in the most walkable neighbourhoods, according to the study, saw on average a 13 per cent lower instance of diabetes over 10 years, whereas the least walkable neighbourhoods saw diabetes rise six per cent in the same time period.

A May report from medical officers of health across the Toronto and Hamilton Area called on multiple levels of government to design their growing cities with that walkability in mind.

Because so far, they haven’t been: As car-dependent communities grow, so do regional diabetes rates which are expected to reach 16.4 per cent by 2027, up from 7.1 per cent in 2002.

“We need to build physical activity back into people’s lives,” the report says. “Planning healthy, compact, complete communities is needed to support greater use of public transit and active transportation.

It can be difficult for people to change their behaviour, says Global News medical correspondent Dr. Samir Gupta. But the environment in which they live can certainly help.

To that end, Toronto hopes to redevelop much of Eglinton Avenue into a pedestrian-friendly boulevard as they build the $5-bilion Eglinton Crosstown light-rail line.

The proposal calls for bike lanes, wider sidewalks and promoting mixed-use areas along the thoroughfare.

“People who live in a more walkable neighbourhood have a lower incidence of diabetes over time,” Gupta said.

Gupta offered five things to maximize the benefits of walking:

1.  Walking is good for you

Walking has been shown to reduce blood pressure, reduce diabetes and strokes, improve cholesterol control. Gupta noted walking is also associated with lower rates of dementia.

2.  10,000 steps per day? Not necessarily. But the more you walk, the better

“This number gets thrown around and the reason is that it’s what was used in a lot of these studies. But it is daunting because it translates to about 8 kilometres a day for the average person. But the idea here is that any walking is beneficial.”

3.  Keep track of your movement

“The average person takes 3,000 to 4,000 steps per day, so you’re almost halfway there,” Gupta said. He recommends technology like a pedometer to track what you’ve done.

4.  Use walking directions instead of driving or transit directions

People frequently trust Google to give them driving directions to their destinations – but the website also offers walking directions. Gupta recommends prioritizing walking directions to get a few more steps into the day.

“If you actually check the walking directions, it’s often short enough that you can walk it,” he said.

5.  Check the walkability score

Websites such as Walkscore.com score Toronto neighbourhoods by their walkability. Gupta recommends taking that score into account when looking for a new place to live, but more importantly,  considering the personal impact of a new potential place of residence.

“Think about how that new residence can impact your own personal walkability,” he said. “These kind of health behaviours are notoriously difficult to change but if you put yourself in an environment that’s conducive to you walking more, you may actually leave yourself no choice.”

© Shaw Media, 2014

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