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Neighborhoods that are walkable good for health

September 20, 2012

Walking is a key component of a healthy lifestyle for seniors, but not everyone lives where it's easy to get around on foot. However, results of a new study suggest having the ability to go for a walk may be more important to one's health than originally thought. Researchers say an unwalkable neighborhood could be a contributing factor to developing diabetes.

The study, conducted by scientists from St. Michael's Hospital and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, revealed that people who live in neighborhoods where it's hard to walk have about a 50 percent greater chance of developing diabetes.

The research focused on 1 million Canadians between the ages of 30 and 64 and followed them over the course of five years. A neighborhood's walkability was determined through a number of different factors including street connectivity and its proximity to locations of interest.

"Although diabetes can be prevented through physical activity, healthy eating and weight loss, we found the environment in which one lives is also an important indicator for determining risk," said Dr. Gillian Booth, lead author of the study.

The study is just the latest evidence highlighting the important role walking and staying physically active plays in healthy aging. Along with helping seniors manage their cholesterol levels and weight, walking offers numerous benefits when it comes to arthritis as well.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, walking is such an effective activity because it can help strengthen bones and improve muscle and joint flexibility, two things that are especially important for older adults with arthritis. Furthermore, thanks to mental health benefits of exercise, walking can help lessen depression, fatigue and stress that sometimes come along with the condition.