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Physical Activity in Relation to Urban Environments Worldwide

Key Message

The difference in physical activity between participants living in the most and least activity-friendly neighbourhoods ranged from 68 min/week to 89 min/week, which represents 45–59% of the 150 min/week recommended by guidelines.


Sallis, James F. et al. (2016). Physical activity in relation to urban environments in 14 cities worldwide: a cross-sectional study. The Lancet. Published Online: 1 April 2016. DOI:


Physical inactivity has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. It is a global problem, estimated to account for more than 5 million deaths per year worldwide. Adults tend to be more physically active when they live in areas that have higher density of people, and are near shops, services, restaurants, public transit, and parks, compared to residents of less-walkable areas. But the evidence showing the link between walkable features (the built environment) and physical activity has not always been consistent. The purpose of this international study of 6,822 adults was to improve the quality of the evidence.

The study included participants from 14 cities and surrounding regions in 10 countries: Belgium (Ghent), Brazil (Curitiba), Colombia (Bogota), Czech Republic (Olomouc), Denmark (Aarhus), China (Hong Kong), Mexico (Cuernavaca), New Zealand (North Shore, Waitakere, Wellington, and Christchurch), the United Kingdom (Stoke-on-Trent), and the United States (Seattle, WA and Baltimore, MD).


  • Residential density, number of public transport stops, number of street intersections and number of parks within walking distance were found to be the most activity-friendly characteristics of a neighborhood.
  • Each of these activity-friendly characteristics was independently related to physical activity. The relationships with physical activity were also linear; for example, the higher the level of residential density, the higher the level of physical activity.
  • Adults who lived in the most activity-friendly neighborhoods did 68 to 89 minutes more physical activity per week than those in the least activity-friendly neighborhoods. This difference is much larger than has been reported in other studies.
  • The relationships between a neighborhood’s characteristics and the physical activity of residents were generally similar across diverse cities. 

Benefit Statements / Outcomes

Leadership Provided By:

  • Leisure Information Network (LIN)
  • Alberta Recreation and Parks Association

On Behalf Of:

  • Canadian Parks and Recreation Association (CPRAA)

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