The built environment and location-based physical activity

Am J Prev Med. 2010 Apr;38(4):429-38. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2009.12.032.


Background: Studies of the built environment and physical activity have implicitly assumed that a substantial amount of activity occurs near home, but in fact the location is unknown.

Purpose: This study aims to examine associations between built environment variables within home and work buffers and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) occurring within these locations.

Methods: Adults (n=148) from Massachusetts wore an accelerometer and GPS unit for up to 4 days. Levels of MVPA were quantified within 50-m and 1-km home and work buffers. Multiple regression models were used to examine associations between five objective built environment variables within 1-km home and work buffers (intersection density, land use mix, population and housing unit density, vegetation index) and MVPA within those areas.

Results: The mean daily minutes of MVPA accumulated in all locations=61.1+/-32.8, whereas duration within the 1-km home buffers=14.0+/-16.4 minutes. Intersection density, land use mix, and population and housing unit density within 1-km home buffers were positively associated with MVPA in the buffer, whereas a vegetation index showed an inverse relationship (all p<0.05). None of these variables showed associations with total MVPA. Within 1 km of work, only population and housing unit density were significantly associated with MVPA within the buffer.

Conclusions: Findings are consistent with studies showing that certain attributes of the built environment around homes are positively related to physical activity, but in this case only when the outcome was location-based. Simultaneous accelerometer-GPS monitoring shows promise as a method to improve understanding of how the built environment influences physical activity behaviors by allowing activity to be quantified in a range of physical contexts and thereby provide a more explicit link between physical activity outcomes and built environment exposures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actigraphy
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Environment*
  • Female
  • Geographic Information Systems
  • Housing
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Massachusetts / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Activity*
  • Poisson Distribution
  • Population Density
  • Regression Analysis
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Sex Factors
  • Time Factors
  • Workplace
  • Young Adult