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Walkable neighborhoods help reduce cardiovascular risk

According to two preliminary studies to be presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2022 (November 5-7 in Chicago), neighborhood walkability – a measure of how easy and safe it is to walk to reach resources for daily living, such as grocery stores, schools, pharmacies, work, or church – is associated with lower cardiovascular disease burden and risk. 

Cardiovascular disease is the main cause of death in the U.S. and globally. An important factor for achieving optimal cardiovascular health and reducing disease risk is physical activity. Thus, walkable neighborhoods could turn out to be essential in improving heart health.

“When a person’s environment is conducive to walking, there is a greater likelihood of engagement in physical activity such as walking,” explained Elizabeth A. Jackson, the past chair of the American Heart Association’s Committee on Social Determinants of Health. 

“Ample data support the cardiovascular benefits of regular physical activity including walking, therefore, designing neighborhoods to be walkable may assist residents in improving their cardiovascular health.”

In the first study, over 70,000 U.S. census tracts were analyzed to explore the potential association among neighborhood walkability and cardiovascular disease and risk factors.

The analysis revealed that cardiovascular disease prevalence was lower (5.4 percent) in the most walkable neighborhoods compared to the least walkable ones (7 percent), and that 36 percent of adults living in the least walkable neighborhoods had high blood pressure, high cholesterol or obesity compared to about 30 percent in the most walkable ones.

Moreover, type 2 diabetes prevalence was 11.6 percent in the least walkable neighborhoods compared to 10.6 percent in the most walkable ones.

In a second study – conducted only in Houston – the scientists examined the city in terms of its walkability, while evaluating the health data of over 900,000 adults in the Houston Methodist Cardiovascular Disease Learning Health System Registry from 2016 to 2021.

The researchers found that for people without cardiovascular disease, living in a walkable neighborhood was associated with being twice as likely to have optimal cardiovascular risk factors compared to those living in car-dependent neighborhoods. Furthermore, people with cardiovascular disease living in higher walkability areas had 58 percent higher odds of having an optimal cardiovascular risk profile than those living in lower walkability areas.

Based on these findings, the experts urge policymakers to prioritize resources for building more walkable cities which offer close access to educational, retail, food, recreational, and entertainment venues in order to encourage walking as a normal way to get around.

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By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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