Rural and suburban areas less healthy than cities due to lack of walking and bicycling accommodations

An article in the Montreal Gazette outlines new research into the affect of urban design on health:
[A]ccording to the new study, by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, city-dwellers are twice as likely to walk, bike or take public transit to work as are the people of commuter-land. Even city-dwellers could stand to lose weight, however, with just half able to claim a healthy weight. But a rate of 50 per cent still beats Canadians in small towns and rural areas, of whom only 44 per cent say they are at a healthy weight.

Routine physical activity is linked to the lower rate of obesity in major urban centres in Canada, said Dr. Anthony Graham of the Heart and Stroke Foundation. . . .

The problem is suburbs have been designed to make it hard to incorporate physical activity into one's daily life. A survey done in 2000 on what municipalities of various sizes did to encourage physical exercise found small towns, under 10,000 population, offered the least. Only eight per cent required safe pedestrian and bicycle routes when new housing areas are developed. . . .

Research is building to show both the brain and the body need exercise, and that this is on the basis of "use it or lose it." In a recent study, the risk of Alzheimer's disease was found to rise 30 per cent for each hour per day of television watched. "We don't think that television causes Alzheimer's," said Robert Friedland of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. "We think [television] is a marker of an inactive lifestyle."

To get away from an inactive lifestyle, communities of whatever size need to adopt some of the

following features: paths and trails for walking, running and cycling; wide sidewalks; short blocks; well-lit streets; compact communities; buildings close to the road; civic commitment to an active lifestyle.