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How walkable neighbourhoods help adults socialise

A new study shows how walkable neighbourhoods can improve social interactions and physical activity among adults

A new study shows how walkable neighbours build stronger communities. (Pexels)
A new study shows how walkable neighbours build stronger communities. (Pexels)

Adults who live in walkable neighbourhoods tend to interact more with others and have a stronger sense of community, according to a new study. The findings show that one of the ways to address health problems triggered due to loneliness and lack of connections is by improving the social infrastructure to promote connections.

The new study was led by Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science researchers at the University of California San Diego (UC San Diego). It shows that neighbourhoods which are accessible by walking promote active behaviours such as walking for leisure or transportation to school, work, shopping or home, according to the press statement by UC San Diego. This, in turn, builds a stronger sense of community among the adults compared to those who live in car-dependent communities. The findings were published in the journal Health & Place.

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In May 2023, the US Surgeon General Advisory stated that loneliness and isolation can lead to a 29% increased risk of heart disease, a 32% increased risk of stroke, a 50% increased risk of developing dementia among older adults, and increased risk of premature death by more than 60%, according to the statement.

To address these problems, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recommended designing environments that create connections. "Our built environments create or deny long-lasting opportunities for socialisation, physical activity, contact with nature, and other experiences that affect public health," James F Sallis, senior author of the UC San Diego study said in the statement.

For the study, the researchers analysed data from the Neighborhood Quality of Life Study, which included 1,745 adults aged between 20 to 66 living in 32 neighbourhoods in the US.

The findings showed that neighbourhood walkability may promote social interactions with neighbours such as greeting each other or asking for help. In contrast, communities where people can drive in and out and where there are no gathering places could prevent people from socialising, according to the statement.

The researchers highlight that promoting social interactions is a significant health goal and understanding how neighbourhood affects it improves the ability to build better structures. Moreover, walkable neighbourhoods could also result in fewer traffic accidents and increased physical activity.

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