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Palacký University
05-31-2016, 13:13, Age: 6 y.

Scientists Analysed Urban Physical Activity: Olomouc Is Among Activity-Friendly Cities

By: Martin Višňa

Illustration photo: Martin Višňa

The importance of healthy cities in order to prevent diseases caused by physical inactivity is elaborated upon in a new study by the International Physical Activity and Environment Network (IPEN), published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet. According to the authors, including Josef Mitáš from the UP Faculty of Physical Culture, people living in an activity-friendly environment get at least 90 more minutes of exercise a week than other city dwellers.

Experts mapped conditions for movement in the proximity of the place of residence and monitored the physical activity of nearly 7000 people from 14 cities in 10 countries. The list included for example Gent, Belgium; Bogotá, Columbia; Aarhus, Denmark; and Stoke-on-Trent, the United Kingdom.

On average, the participants from all fourteen cities did 37 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous-intensity activity a day, which corresponds with fast walking. The highest mean daily activity, 50.1 minutes, was measured in Wellington, New Zealand, whereas the lowest activity was monitored in Baltimore, USA – a mere 29.2 minutes.

“Olomouc, representing Czech cities, had the second highest activity – 47.1 minutes daily, with prevailing active transport to work, walking, and biking. We look fairly well in comparison to other cities; on the other hand there is a visible decrease in physical activity in Olomouc. It is only a matter of time before we fall down in the ranking,” Mitáš commented upon the study findings.

Factors of residential density, parks, and intersections

Residential density, the number and proximity of public transport stops, park access, and the number of intersections were identified as the main environmental factors that stimulate physical activity.

"Neighbourhoods with high residential density tend to have connected streets, shops and services – meaning people will be more likely to walk to their local shops. Interestingly, distance to the nearest transport stop was not associated with higher levels of physical activity, whereas the number of nearby transport stops was. This might mean that with more options, people are more likely to walk further to get to a transport stop that best meets their needs. The number of local parks was also important, since parks not only provide places for sport, but also a pleasant environment to walk in," said the study’s lead author, James Sallis from the University of California, San Diego.

The number of intersections is important because it reduces and slows down the automobile traffic. “Such an environment is safer and more suitable for walking, which may often be a faster means of transport than moving inch by inch in a car,” added Mitáš.

Data for urban planning

According to the scientists, the above-mentioned attributes of activity-friendly environment were similar across countries. Thus, it appears that environmental principles in designing neighbourhoods apply internationally. Designing healthier cities upon these findings could help tackle the pandemic of inactivity and thus reduce the related diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some cancers.

“As part of their response to rising levels of non-communicable diseases, public health agencies should work with the urban planning, transport, and parks and recreation sectors towards making cities more activity-friendly than they are today,” concluded Sallis.

The article summarising the study findings was published in The Lancet, one of the most important medical journals in the world.

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