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February 2010
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Does the Built Environment Influence Physical Activity

“We are a society that drives to the gym to run on the treadmill’

Yesterday a friend of mine at work ran a session on how the built environment influences our physical activity regimes, based on a Transportation Research Board Report from 2005. The premise of his presentation is that the world is becoming less active, obesity rates are on the rise, we are dependent on the car, more of us live in suburbs and overall we are less healthy and less happy.

In the US there is a program called Healthy People 2010, which promotes physical activity and lowering obesity rates. From the site I navigated my way over to their Quick Guide to Healthy Living, which provides expert advice on nutrition & fitness as well as several other programs to help you live an active and healthy life.

In Canada we have the Health Goals whose overarching goal “As a nation, we aspire to a Canada in which every person is as healthy as they can be – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.’ Our Health Canada site seemed to have similar information on how to lead a healthy life.

The presenter is one who believes in active transportation, eating well and living life in a sustainable manner. He promotes cycling to work and being active with colleagues through the day. And he states that while vigourous activity may not be for everyone being a healthy person doesn’t require much effort. Under Healthy People 2010 the following constitutes healthy living:

30 minutes of light activity 5 times per week


20 minutes of vigorous activity 3 times per week

Even better, you can divide those 30 minutes of light activity into 10 minute chunks. Take a break and walk for 10 minutes at work; you’ll probably be more productive for it. Park further away and force yourself to walk that extra distance to and from the office. Walk to lunch. Walk 5 flights of stairs before you get on the elevator. Simple things you can do to squeeze in some extra activity.

Work hours are longer. Driving times are increased as we drive from suburb to work and back again. No longer is the grocery store, drug store or restaurants within walking distance. Our time competes between exercise and the computer, internet and video games.

There are many programs in place to create healthy cities. Toronto has changed its mandate and now has pedestrians and cyclists at the top of it’s design hierarchy instead of cars and trucks. Under the Healthy Schools Program Ontario elementary school teachers are required to provide 20 minutes of vigorous activity to students each day.   And while our lives become busier and efficiency becomes necessity having the infrastructure in place to make our lives more active will promote a healthier society.


Comment from Shawn Smith
Time February 24, 2010 at 8:38 pm

Nice summary, Sasha! Bikes rule, cars drool! :)

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Time February 28, 2010 at 4:22 am

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Comment from Harry Burke
Time February 28, 2010 at 5:03 pm

The problem with biking or running to work is that few work places provide showers and lockers!

Comment from Sasha
Time February 28, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Agreed Harry. I think (and hope) that over the next few years that will change as building and renovating in an environmentally friendly way will become the norm. More places are starting to offer showers and lockers in the workplace.