Urban or Suburban: Physical activities differ by kind, not amount

I have the daily pleasure of walking, to work, to shop, to visit my neighbours. In fact, at least once a week one of my neighbours and I will head out for an evening march, just to avoid too many evenings in front of a screen. I fit the profile of a central urban resident, as released in a Stats Can study looking at the physical activity levels of urban and suburban residents, Life in Metropolitan Areas.

My extended family live in less dense neighbourhoods, further out from the city core, with big lawns, wide streets, and impossibly long walks to a hardware store or a restaurant. The study shows however that their physical activity levels are still likely on par with mine because they do more outdoor yard work (much more!) and they are also more likely to engage in an active leisure activity.

So, the study’s analysis of daily activitity shows, however we do it, urban and suburban dwellers tend to spend about the same amount of time engaged in daily physical activities. (If you’re interested in some of the other demographic characteristics of active people, see a previous Statistics Canada study, Who participates in active leisure?)

There were, however, two exceptions to the comparable physical activity levels amongst urban and suburban residents.

Suburban dwellers who were less physically active were those who:

  • work or go to school more than 9 hours a day, and/or
  • live in the tall residential apartments and condominiums that sprinkle most of Toronto’s suburbs, those that live in the tall towers, far from easy transit or commercial activities. 

While New Urbanism (see also CBC’s video clips on the topic) addresses some of the issues of built form and more compact and walkable communities, targeted intitiatives, such as the Mayor’s Tower Renewal project, are more likely to make a difference to those who are not physically active. Introducing such things as commmunity gardens and mixed commercial activity, the Tower Renewal Project changes the landscape surrounding tall buildings, thereby providing further opportunties for local residents to be physically active, whether through walking to do their errands or yard work.

Today’s Stats Can study simply underscores how landscape offers different opportunities to be physically active.



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