Your Neighborhood’s Walkability Could Influence Your Chances of Developing Type 2 Diabetes

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Walking is one of the simplest ways to get the exercise you need. It doesn’t require any equipment besides a good pair of shoes, pretty much everyone already knows how to do it, and you can do it just about anywhere, either alone or with companions.

Walking also has a long list of health benefits, including the reduction of stress and depression, improved cholesterol and blood pressure, weight loss, and a decreased risk of heart disease, dementia, and other chronic diseases. Diabetes is one of them, as walking can help reduce your glucose after a meal.

But did you know that your neighborhood might actually be affecting your health? It’s true. If the place you live facilitates your outdoor activity well, it may increase your likelihood of getting regular exercise, thereby decreasing your risk of obesity and diabetes.

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Remember, of course, that being overweight is not the only factor involved in whether or not a person will develop diabetes. But it is one of the main ones, so maintaining a healthy weight by getting enough exercise and eating nutritious foods will help prevent diabetes in most cases.

In a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 8,777 neighborhoods in Ontario were analyzed for “walkability.” This metric was created as a 100-point scale based on population density, residence density, the number of facilities within walking distance of residences and how well the networks of streets are connected.

The study, which monitored people age 30-64 in those communities, took more than a decade to conduct and is the first to analyze the link between walkability and diabetes over time. It shows that walkable neighborhoods reduce the risk of being overweight or obese or developing diabetes by more than 10 percent. From the very beginning, diabetes rates were lower in walkable neighborhoods than in their non-walkable counterparts. Although diabetes rates remained stable rather than increasing in the least walkable neighborhoods, they dropped significantly over the course of the study in the most walkable ones.

Couple Walking Along Sidewalk Together

According to the senior author of the study, Dr. Gillian L. Booth, a physician at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, neighborhoods where motor vehicles aren’t necessary to get from one place to another are the healthiest:

Walking, cycling and public transit rates were much higher in walkable neighborhoods, and that leads to better health outcomes.

The authors of the study acknowledged that this was not a randomized study and it does not prove that the walkability of neighborhoods is a cause of decreased obesity or diabetes prevalence. However, walking is healthy whether or not it decreases diabetes risks. So when buying a new home or renting a place, consider the walkability metric to decide whether your new neighborhood will help or hinder your health.

Walking has a number of health benefits, so even if you’re not worried about developing diabetes or controlling your weight, it’s still time to lace up those sneakers! In order to make sure you’re walking safely, stretch before and after you walk, don’t do too much at first if you’re not used to physical activity, stay hydrated, keep good posture, and wear quality walking or running shoes. A combination of cardio walks and toning workouts will be most effective for combating high blood glucose.

For more ways to get your blood flowing, check out these 7 fun low-impact exercise ideas.

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Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?