Improving the ”walkability” of neighbourhoods and preserving green space could help improve the health of Australians, research in a report to be issued today suggests.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has synthesised research findings on a range of environmental factors which can influence human health.

The institute’s report said a United States study had found that people living in neighbourhoods more accessible to pedestrians did more walking and cycling for transport, drove less and had lower body mass indexes then people in nearby suburbs. Walkable neighbourhoods were characterised by mixed land use, connected streets, high residential density and pedestrian-oriented retail areas.

Dutch research had shown that prevalence for 15 out of 24 diseases was lower in people living in an environment with more green space in a 1km radius.

”The strongest relationship was found for anxiety and depression, although there was also smaller reductions in the risk of heart disease, diabetes, chronic neck and back pain, asthma and migraine,” the institute’s report said.

Workmates Alison Cousins and Sam Montenegro regularly enjoy a walk along the shore of Lake Burley Griffin, near their public service office. Ms Montenegro said she also enjoyed using walking trails near her home in Gungahlin. Both women agreed that working near the lake was an encouragement to exercise at lunchtime. But Ms Cousins said most people in Canberra should be able to find a suitable place to walk.

”If you need to exercise then you just do it,” she said.

Heart Foundation ACT chief executive Tony Stubbs said the environment should help people to incorporate walking and cycling into their daily routines. ”We need to re-orient our planning to favour walking, cycling and public transport and to start to reduce motor vehicle dependency,” Mr Stubbs said.

An ACT Government report issued this week recommends that speed limits be reduced in parts of town centres to create ”shared spaces” for cyclists and walkers.

Some of the other environmental factors that can influence human health including temperature, extreme weather events, ultraviolet radiation, air quality, water fluoridation, transport, food water safety, green space, vector populations, environmental noise and accidents around the home.

Peter Jean, Canberra Times, 30 March 2011

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