The effect of a neighborhood built environment on physical activity behaviors

J Phys Act Health. 2012 Nov;9(8):1089-97. doi: 10.1123/jpah.9.8.1089. Epub 2011 Dec 27.


Background: The ability to design or reconfigure communities to be more supportive of physical activity has broad public health implications. Assessing the context and locations of specific behaviors will lead to a better understanding of how neighborhood attributes influence overall physical activity.

Methods: A cross-sectional survey was used to assess physical activity before and after residents moved to Mueller, a New Urbanist-inspired community in Austin, Texas. Context-specific physical activity and the locations where these activities took place were examined.

Results: Overall, residents reported that they increased their physical activity by 66.4 minutes (95% CI: 32.8-100.1) per week after moving to Mueller. For recreational walking, residents reported an average of 159.8 minutes inside Mueller after moving, an increase from 91.7 minutes before their move (P < .001). Correspondingly, residents walked 18.6 fewer minutes per week outside Mueller (P < .001). For transport-related walking, the mean number of minutes spent walking outside Mueller remained constant, but the time spent walking inside the neighborhood decreased an average of 10.8 minutes per week after moving (P = .02).

Conclusions: The most notable increase was seen in walking for recreation inside the neighborhood. Results of this natural experiment strongly suggest the environmental impact on physical activity and underscore the importance of investigating the context and locations where different types of physical activity occur.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Environment Design*
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Texas
  • Young Adult