Study: People Living Near Biking and Walking Paths Get More Exercise

Walking and biking activity increased for people living near new facilities, in three U.K. communities examined. Connect2 is the name of the nonprofit group that helped install the infrastructure. Image: American Journal of Public Health
New bike/ped infrastructure in three UK communities (labeled “Connect2” — the name of the nonprofit group that helped install the infrastructure) led to more physical activity. Graph: American Journal of Public Health

People who live near safe, high-quality biking and walking infrastructure tend to get more exercise than people who don’t, according to a study published last week in the American Journal of Public Health.

Researchers surveyed randomly selected adults before and after new bike/ped infrastructure was built in three communities in the U.K. Two of the selected communities opened bike and pedestrian bridges with well-connected “feeder” infrastructure. The other community upgraded “an informal riverside footpath” into a boardwalk during the study period.

Over two years, about 1,500 people responded to annual surveys about their walking and biking habits as well as other exercise behavior. During the first year of the survey — before the bike/ped improvements had been completed — there was no difference in biking and walking levels between people living close to the project areas and people living farther away. But by the final survey year, after the new infrastructure had been built, a disparity began to emerge.

Researchers found that people living within 0.6 miles of a protected bikeway got about 45 minutes more exercise biking and walking per week than people living 2.5 miles away. For every kilometer (0.6 miles) closer respondents lived to the infrastructure improvement, they exercised roughly 15 minutes more per week. People without access to a car were most likely to exercise more in response to the infrastructure improvements.

The full extent of the increase was driven by a small group of people who increased their exercise significantly following the improvements. But even after researchers removed the big outliers — people who increased their exercise dramatically — there was still a difference of 27 minutes per week between people living 0.6 miles away and people living 2.5 miles away.

Importantly, researchers found there was no corresponding decrease in other types of physical activity — meaning access to biking and walking infrastructure helped increase overall physical activity levels for nearby residents.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Anne Goodman of the University of Cambridge, said that this type of infrastructure could be a key to the fight against obesity and diabetes.

“These findings support the case for changing the environment to promote physical activity by making walking and cycling safer, more convenient and more attractive,” she said in a statement.

8 thoughts on Study: People Living Near Biking and Walking Paths Get More Exercise

  1. I am not quite sure what the chart above is supposed to represent, but what I am reading from it is that the closer people live to “Connect2” (whatever it is, not explicitly explained in the article) the more likely they are to use it (DUH!). Secondly, the proximity of said “Connect2” seems IRELLEVANT for the amount of walking and cycling they get every week.

  2. If you read the paper, you’d see they take into account income differences – wealth doesn’t play a factor in their final analysis.

  3. You would think it would seem obvious, but in some neighborhoods there is a near certainty that (1) “nobody here will use it” and (2) “it will bring crime to our neighborhood” (actual words and phrases used: “crimeway” and “an urban population”). On the other hand, it’s really hard to change someone’s mind once they are convinced they are at risk.

  4. These connections seem obvious to most of us Streetsblog habitués and like-minded people, who question the American gospel of sprawl and auto dependence. But get into a car (you’ll have to) and go a little distance from the few urban neighborhoods and fewer affluent old-line suburbs that are a little bit walkable and bikeable and maybe even have a little transit: you’ll see everywhere the same isolated McMansion subdivisions with no sidewalks or bike paths and nowhere to walk or ride if you had them; the same malls with the same chain stores and franchise restaurants surrounded by acres of parking lots; the same “office parks,” as isolated as the malls and subdivisions. For the vast majority of Americans, “getting fit” still means joining a health club in a local mall and driving there in the SUV a few times a week to work out (always parking as close to the door as possible).

    My doubts about studies like this aren’t about their being obvious, my doubts are whether they are any use in the face of what seems like an unquenchable devotion to sprawl. But what can you do–we’ve got to keep trying, and that includes presenting the facts over and over and over again in hopes that eventually they will start to have some tiny impact.

  5. I think the graph is missing the present walking and cycling time… as it is now, it simply shows that people who live over 4km exercised just about the same as the people who live less than 1km away from Connect2.

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