MOL, 18 September 2019 - How do you design a city that stimulates physical activity? As part of European Mobility Week, a study was carried out in seven European countries that shows how the design of a city stimulates walking. The results of this study have now been published by ISGlobal in Barcelona.

Barcelonans walk the most, the people of Antwerp the least. "Although we have to take this with a pinch of salt," says Luc Int Panis (VITO), who carried out the study in Belgium together with UHasselt. "The inhabitant of Antwerp may walk less, but of all the city dwellers surveyed, he cycles the most. In the end, the aim of the study was mainly to examine how the design of a city can make people physically move".

The study now published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives is part of the PASTA (Physical Activity Through Sustainable Transport Approaches) project. 7,875 adults from seven European cities took part. For Belgium, this was Antwerp. Other participants were Barcelona, London, Rome, Vienna, Zurich and Orebro (Sweden). The participants completed an online questionnaire about their walking habits: how many hours a week, why they chose which means of transport and the availability of a motorised vehicle or a bicycle. The researchers also used public geographical information to collect data on the infrastructure of the environment in which the participants worked, lived or studied.

The benefits of walking are many: more exercise and less air pollution. Both have a positive impact on health. Lack of physical activity is one of the ten most important factors for death worldwide. According to the WHO, a healthy adult needs at least 150 minutes of moderately intensive physical activity, including walking, or 75 minutes of intensive physical activity per week.

The study describes the urban characteristics that encourage people to cross the city on foot and to refrain from motorised transport.  "This is the first study to study not only residential infrastructure, but also the environment of the workplace or place of study. This gives us a much more accurate picture of the outdoor environment to which the participants are exposed," explains Luc Int Panis. A dense network of housing, services and institutions, as well as good public transport, are the most important prerequisites for more frequent walking. This combination already accounts for an increase of 12% (in minutes) in walking trips. 

Participants who themselves indicated that they consider safety, privacy and low exposure to air pollution to be important, hiked more. Participants with a higher education and a car were the least likely to walk. Those who work full-time walk an average of 65% (in minutes) less than those who do not work or study. The Barcelonans are at the top of the list with 259 minutes of walking per week and the people of Antwerp close the list with 50 minutes per week. But they cycle the most.

The study proves the important role of urban planning in promoting walking. Good urban planning can lead to sustainable, healthy and livable cities and meets the objectives of sustainable development (SDGs). This involves improving the nearby living, working and study environment with good public transport facilities and an extensive range of facilities.

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