Living in Walking-Friendly Neighborhoods May Reduce Hypertension Risk

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Moving to a walking-friendly neighborhood could lower the risk of incident hypertension.
Moving to a walking-friendly neighborhood could lower the risk of incident hypertension.

ORLANDO, Fla. — Individuals who moved to a neighborhood that encourages walking had a lower risk for hypertension compared with individuals who moved to a neighborhood that requires more driving, according to research presented at the American Heart Association (AHA) Scientific Sessions.

Hypertension is a main cause of cardiovascular disease and stroke, which are 2 leading causes of death in the United States. The AHA recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise, like walking, every day to reduce the risk for hypertension.

Maria Chiu, MSc, PhD, scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto and lead author of the study, presented the findings.

For the study, Dr Chiu and colleagues examined the association between moving to a neighborhood that encourages walking and hypertension risk.

“We need to set people up for success by making walking instead of driving the more convenient and enjoyable choice,” said Dr Chiu. “Urban planners and policymakers can do their part by designing neighborhoods that are more pedestrian-friendly.”

The researchers used a program called Walk Score, an open-access walkability index, to rate neighborhoods on a scale of 1 to 100 on the accessibility of stores, parks, and schools that are in walking distance. A neighborhood with a score below 90 was considered a low walkability neighborhood, and a neighborhood with a score of 90 or above was considered highly walkable.

The study, conducted between 2001 and 2010, included 1057 propensity-score matched pairs aged at least 20 years from the Canadian Community Health Survey who moved from a low walkability neighborhood to a high walkability neighborhood or to another low walkability neighborhood. The researchers monitored the blood pressure of the participants for up to 10 years, with a median follow-up of 4 years.

The blood pressure data were obtained using linked health databases analyzed at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences.

Incidence of hypertension was considerably lower among those who moved from a low to a high walkability neighborhood compared with those who moved from a low walkability neighborhood to another with low walkability (8.6 vs 18.0 per 1000 person-years; P<.01), according to study results.

People who moved from low to high walkability neighborhoods also had a 54% lower risk for hypertension than those who moved from one low walkability neighborhood to another (Plog rank=.03).

“In conclusion, low to high movers had a significantly lower risk of incident hypertension,” said Dr Chiu. “This suggests that a highly walkable neighborhood can positively impact health. We need to raise awareness of the importance of neighborhood environments.”

The researchers noted that dietary factors could also affect risk for hypertension, which was not monitored in this study, aside from fruit and vegetable intake.

References

  1. Chiu M, Rezai MR, Maclagan LC, et al. Abstract 134. Moving To a Highly Walkable Neighborhood and Incidence of Hypertension: A Propensity-Score Matched Cohort Study. Presented at American Heart Association Scientific Sessions; November 7-11, 2015; Orlando, FL.

  2. Chiu M, Rezai M-R, Maclagan LC, et al. Moving to a Highly Walkable Neighborhood and Incidence of Hypertension: A Propensity-Score Matched Cohort Study. Environ Health Perspect. 2015;doi:10.1289/ehp.1510425.

  3. Walking 101. American Heart Association website. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/PhysicalActivity/Walking/Walking-101_UCM_461766_Article.jsp#.VjfNP7erRaQ. Updated March 2014. Accessed November 2, 2015.

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