Where you live can impact your healthÃ¢â‚¬”sometimes, in ways you wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t expect.
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no secret that too many Americans will find any excuse to avoid movement. Modern conveniences, like cars, or lawn mowers you ride instead of push, have slashed the amount of calories people burn while going about their daily lives. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s why the American Journal of Preventive Medicine published a supplement outlining how to build communities that encourage their residents to move around more. Because when our neighborhoods have certain features, they enable us to live healthier lives. Like by forcing us to get off our butts and get active.
That said, the mark of a healthy town isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t just limited to bike lanes and sidewalks. To assess the healthy-factor of your community, check out this list of must-haves. How many items are true of your Ã¢â‚¬Ëœhood?
1. The barista lives above the coffee shop. When shops and restaurants are incorporated into residential areas, people are encouraged to walk instead of drive, says Katherine Kraft, Ph.D., a contributing author to the AJPM supplement, and healthy community consultant in Princeton, NJ. And thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a good idea, as people who live in a walkable neighborhood weigh an average of 6 to 10 pounds less than those who live in a sprawling neighborhood, according to a 2008 study published in American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Better yet: streets lined with stores and homes are busier, and more eyes and ears can lead to a safer-feeling community.
2. You can buy an apple at the corner bodega. The closer you are to a food market, the more likely you are to eat fruits and vegetables, and the less likely you are to be obese, according to a 2010 study published in International Journal of Health Geographics. If your closest market doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t stock fresh produce, request it, otherwise your proximity wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be much help.
3. Sidewalks are four shoulder-lengths wide. Walkways built for four accommodate two people walking side-by-side in each direction, which is ideal for walking in groups without interfering with traffic. On more narrow paths, walk in single file, and never veer into the street.
4. You can smell the roses, sit, and window shop. Stroll-worthy streets lined with flower boxes, benches, public artwork, and interesting windows displays are more inviting to pedestrians, says Kraft. If your cityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s sidewalks are an eyesore, file your complaint with your state or county Department of Transportation.
5. Paths are lined with more trees than bushes. A University of Essex study found that walking along a green outdoor path led to improved self-esteem and mood, compared to walking indoors. However, bushes offer criminals a place to hide and can compromise your safety, says Kraft. Trees are ideal, as they create a canopy effect to provide pedestrian shade.
6. YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re never in the dark. On average, only 25 percent of local roads are continuously lit, according to a report by the Lighting Research Center of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. However, well-lit streets foster feelings of safety, and encourage people to walk and bike, even after nightfall. If your neighborhood is poorly lit, carry a flashlight while walking, or attach lightsÃ¢â‚¬”white in the front, red in the rear--to your bike.
7. The speed limit is 25 or under. Because itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s easier to stop a car thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s moving slowly, lower speed limits can be safer for pedestriansÃ¢â‚¬”so long as drivers abide by the rules. If you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t reroute your walk to a street slower moving traffic, stick to the sidewalk. No sidewalk? Be sure to walk against traffic, so you can see cars coming, even if drivers donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t see you.
8. Car parking is pricy, but bike parking is free. When parking your car is expensive or inconvenient, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re more likely to walk or bikeÃ¢â‚¬”especially if there are places to lock your bike, says Kraft. Use a sturdy bike lock to secure your cycle to a bike rack, scaffolding, or light pole, which are ideal for bike parking. Bonus: Outdoor bike parking is always on the house.
9. Crosswalks are clearly marked. According to a 2006 Federal Highway Administration study, more than 20 percent of pedestrian deaths occur when crossing roads or intersections. Safe communities have crosswalks that are clearly defined by pavement paint, flashing lights, and traffic lights with walk signs.
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