‘Running’ Errands Can Lead to Better Health

Sunday was one of those beautiful fall days, sunny and clear. No reason not to go for a walk, so my daughter and I wandered around the neighbourhood and ended up at the grocery store. We’re lucky that we have walkable amenities nearby. Apparently other people in our neighbourhood feel the same way as we bumped into two separate sets of friend and neighbours. One family was fully kitted out with bike helmets on their way back from a ride. Another was on foot just as we were.

So, reading the Vancouver Sun headline this morning “Voting with Our Feet – Strong desire for walkable communities: study” I can’t say I was surprised. It’s intuitive that if you can access what you need easily on foot, it will contribute to more walking trips.

I also must confess to my own faith in healthy built environments. I have watched with interest the increase in scholarship on the subject and the great partnerships forming between health and planning. We’re lucky in BC to benefit from increased study on these issues from Larry Frank’s shop, the Health and Community Design Lab at UBC.

Larry led the study and is without doubt a world leader in the area, as the Sun went on to note. Across Canada, the built environment has become a topic of interest for health promoters who see the links to planning. The Healthy By Design CLASP has created a series of case studies that identify best practices developed in tandem by planners and health authorities. The partnerships will only increase the likelihood of healthier communities.

The real difference between walkable versus more car oriented neighbourhoods is not so much the interest of people in walking, but the ‘utilitarian’ versus ‘recreational’ trips. And even small trips to the store can add up to better health.

To quote Medical Health Officer, John Carsley, “It’s not just an element of people who are more active or less active choosing an environment that reinforces their preferences. It reinforces the importance that your local environment has on your health.”

If the environment is right, then the majority of people will walk more, because the healthy choice becomes the easier choice. So if we build healthy communities, more people will be healthier. I think that’s a health promoting choice right there.

Samantha Hartley-Folz
Manager, Policy & Programs
October 2014

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