Creating neighbourhoods, cities and towns that promote the opportunity to walk to the shops, the doctors, the library or the many other spots you may need to go is one of the keys to helping people keep healthy. That’s the finding of recent research from Deakin University who were looking at the the impact of living in a walkable neighbourhood.

‘Better walkability was associated with better physical function for residents of Brisbane’s most disadvantaged neighbourhoods,’ said lead researcher Dr Venurs Loh.

‘Research shows those living in advantaged neighbourhoods report better physical function than those in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. What our new paper shows for the first time is that a high level of walkability in a disadvantaged suburb can narrow the gap between residents of rich and poor neighbourhoods when it comes to physical function, ultimately addressing a key inequality in public health,’ she said.

Walkability is typically characterised by street connectivity, higher dwelling density and diverse land use mix, or a combination of all three and can be indicative of greater access to a variety of destinations including education, employment, healthcare services, shops, and recreation facilities – which are important to health.

Remember to walk if you can

Dr Loh’s study focussed on measuring residents from middle to old age, when physical function can start to deteriorate.

‘One reason we believe the benefits are more obvious in disadvantaged areas is residents are less likely to own a car, so are more reliant on walking to get around,’ said Dr Loh.

‘Australia has an ageing population so we need to get ready to accommodate that, creating an environment to support ‘ageing in place’ by reducing barriers to facilitate mobility and independence.’

‘In higher density neighbourhoods, destinations such as shops, services, and workplaces are more likely to be close to people’s homes, encouraging pedestrian activity,’ she said.

‘The mix of commercial, institutional, office, and residential zones available in a neighbourhood are also important because people are more likely to walk in neighbourhoods with diverse land uses and a variety of centralised facilities and services that are closer together, with shorter travel distances between them.’

The study highlighted that having good walkability is important wherever you are and whatever age you are.

‘We would encourage local governments to audit their neighbourhoods to determine what barriers they have and what they need to do to intervene to improve walkability in their communities,’ pointed out Dr Loh.

‘We want to provide planners and policy makers with a more robust basis on which to design healthy communities. In this case, to create or improve walkability in all neighbourhoods to reduce social inequalities in health.’