We already know there are many health benefits of being outdoors and that walking as little as 10 minutes a day can help extend life span. It turns out, simply living in walkable neighborhoods can help reduce the prevalence of obesity and diabetes, according to new research from the Endocrine Society.
Study: Walkable Neighborhoods Reduce Prevalence of Obesity, Diabetes
For this study, published in the Endocrine Society’s journal Endocrine Reviews, researchers examined data on what is called the built environment. The built environment is a strategy implemented by U.S. policymakers to provide people access to “living, working and recreational spaces” in order to help combat the obesity and diabetes epidemics in America.
“This environment includes buildings, neighborhoods, parks, bike paths, restaurants, shops, roads and public transportation. Human health is affected by the physical environments we construct,” says the Endocrine Society.
This is important considering more than 37 million people, including an estimated 8.5 million who are undiagnosed, have diabetes in the United States and another 96 million adults have prediabetes (a staggering 38% of the U.S. adult population), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Couple that with the troubling numbers on obesity — namely that nearly 50% of the population is considered obese — and it’s easy to see why it’s vital to encourage people to be more active.
“The built environment can influence physical activity levels by promoting active forms of transportation, such as walking and cycling over passive ones, such as car use,” said Gillian L. Booth, M.D., M.Sc., the University of Toronto, St. Michael’s Hospital of Unity Health Toronto and ICES in Ontario. (Booth is co-author of the study.) “Shifting the transportation choices of local residents may mean that more members of the population can participate in physical activity during their daily routine without structured exercise programs.”
In reviewing numerous studies on how the built environment affects health, the researchers “found walkable, activity-friendly cities and neighborhoods were associated with a lower risk of obesity and diabetes.”
One study of 32,767 people in a population-based model found obesity prevalence was 10 percentage points lower in people living in highly walkable neighborhoods compared to those who don’t. In those living in walkable neighborhoods, the prevalence of obesity was 43% compared to 53% for the other participants.
What about the effect on diabetes? From the Booth and co-author Nicholas A. Howell, M.D., Ph.D., the University of Toronto:
A study of 1.1 million adults with normal blood sugar levels found the incidence of pre-diabetes was 20% higher among people living in less walkable areas after 8 years of follow up. Another study of 1.6 million adults found a 30% to 50% higher likelihood of developing diabetes among people living in low versus highly walkable areas. In a population-based Canadian study, moving from an unwalkable to a highly walkable neighborhood was associated with a 54% lower likelihood of being diagnosed with high blood pressure.
What It Means
Clearly, this research shows just how beneficial walking for weight loss and diabetes prevention is. It’s much better to walk when you can as opposed to getting in the car and passively sitting while you drive.
Of course, that’s not all walking has to offer in the way of benefits. It’s been linked to protection against:
- fatigue and low energy
- thyroid disorders
- PMS symptoms
- hormonal imbalances
- dementia and cognitive decline
- depression and anxiety
- heart disease and related risk factors
In addition, walking is a low-impact exercise that’s easy on the joints, supports bone health and can be done anywhere.
Other Tips for Obesity, Diabetes Prevention
To help prevent, manage or even potentially reverse diabetes, try the following:
- Remove and/or limit consumption of refined sugar, gluten grains, conventional cow milk, alcohol, GMO/bioengineered foods and hydrogenated oils.
- Consume a healthy diabetes diet full of fiber, chromium, magnesium, healthy fats, clean protein and low-glycemic foods.
- Supplement with chromium, cinnamon, omega-3 fish oil, alpha lipoic acid and bitter melon extract.
- Exercise to manage blood sugar levels.
When it comes to preventing obesity and keeping body fat in check, do the following:
- Consume more fat-burning foods, namely high-fiber foods and vegetables.
- Limit sugar, alcohol, soda and grains in the diet.
- Avoid obesogens that contribute to obesity, including phthalates, bisphenol A, polychlorinated biphenyls, atrazine, tributyltin, perfluorooctanoic acid and cigarette smoke.
- Practice mindful eating, and try intermittent fasting.
- Exercise regularly.
- Lower stress.
- Get enough sleep.
- Research from the Endocrine Society found that living in walkable neighborhoods can decrease the prevalence of obesity and diabetes among the population.
- Built environments, in which the design allows for active and walkable neighborhoods, are proving effective in combating the diabetes and obesity epidemics. People living in these type of walkable neighborhoods had lower incidence of obesity, diabetes and even some risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, in the studies examined.
- To maintain optimal health and stave off diabetes and obesity, walk as much as you can, eat a healthy diet, lower stress, get enough sleep and exercise regularly.