October 28 | 2019

The association between walkable neighbourhoods and physical activity across the lifespan. 

Colley RC, Christidis T, Michaud I, Tjepkema M, Ross NA. 

Health Rep. 2019 Sep 18;30(9):3-13. doi: 10.25318/82-003-x201900900001-eng




Walkability is positively associated with physical activity in adults. Walkability is more consistently associated with walking for transportation than recreational walking. The purpose of this study is to examine how the association between walkable neighbourhoods and physical activity varies by age and type of physical activity using a new Canadian walkability database.


The 2016 Canadian Active Living Environments (Can-ALE) database was attached to two cross-sectional health surveys: the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS; 2009 to 2015) and the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS; 2015 to 2016). Physical activity was measured in the CHMS using the Actical accelerometer (n = 10,987; ages 3 to 79). Unorganized physical activity outside of school among children aged 3 to 11 was reported by parents in the CHMS (n = 4,030), and physical activity data by type (recreational, transportation-based, school-based, and household and occupational) was self-reported by respondents in the CCHS (n = 105,876; ages 12 and older).


Walkability was positively associated with accelerometer-measured moderate-to-vigorous physical activity in youth (p ⟨ 0.05), younger adults (p ⟨ 0.0001) and older adults (p ⟨ 0.05), while walkability was negatively associated with light physical activity in youth (ages 12 to 17) and older adults (ages 60 to 79) (p ⟨ 0.05). Walkability was positively associated with self-reported transportation-based physical activity in youth (p ⟨ 0.001) and adults of all ages (p ⟨ 0.0001). Walkability was negatively associated with parent-reported unorganized physical activity of children aged 5 to 11, and children living in the most walkable neighbourhoods accumulated 10 minutes of physical activity less-on average-than those living in the least walkable neighbourhoods.


The results of this study are consistent with previous studies indicating that walkability is more strongly associated with physical activity in adults than in children and that walkability is associated with transportation-based physical activity. Walkability is one of many built environment factors that may influence physical activity. More research is needed to identify and understand the built environment factors associated with physical activity in children and with recreational or leisure-time physical activity.