Is Your Neighborhood Good for Your Heart?

Walkable neighborhoods linked to lower hypertension risk


Do you live in a walkable neighborhood? If so, you may be extending your life.

A new study from Canada found that moving to a highly walkable neighborhood may significantly lower hypertension (high blood pressure) risk, suggesting that certain living environments can positively affect heart health.

"We need to set people up for success by making walking instead of driving the more convenient and enjoyable choice," said lead study author Maria Chiu, PhD, a scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto, in a press release. "Urban planners and policymakers can do their part by designing neighborhoods that are more pedestrian-friendly."

To determine a neighborhood's walkability, the authors of this study used Walk Score — an index that rates neighborhoods for accessibility by foot to schools, parks, stores and other common destinations on a scale of 1 to 100.

For this study, Dr. Chiu and team used data from the 2001-2010 Canadian Community Health Survey to look at 1,057 pairs of Canadian adults who moved from a low-walkability neighborhood (walk score <90) to either a high-walkability neighborhood (walk score ≥90) or another low-walkability neighborhood.

Potentially confounding factors, such as age, income, marital status, body mass index and existing health problems, were accounted for.

Among those who moved from a low-scoring area to a high-walkability neighborhood, these researchers found a 42 percent lower risk of hypertension compared to those who moved to another low-walkability neighborhood.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), hypertension is a primary risk factor for both heart disease and stroke. However, an active lifestyle can reduce this risk. The AHA recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise, such as walking, for most healthy adults.

This study was presented Nov. 8 at the American Heart Association's 2015 Scientific Sessions. Research presented at conferences may not have been peer-reviewed.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care funded this research.

Information on conflicts of interest was not available at the time of publication.