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Where You Live

The Georgia Tech study didn't analyze the attitudes behind participants' behavior.

"We don't know whether people are sedentary because of where they live or if sedentary people choose to live in environments that aren't walkable," says Frank. "Also, do people trade off living in walkable places for other reasons, like schools or crime rates?"

Frank and his family moved to Vancouver from Atlanta and chose a walkable neighborhood.

"We like to walk, and we're more physically active than we were in Atlanta where the environment wasn't walkable," he says.

Where are you likely to find walking-friendly neighborhoods?

"Often, any neighborhood built before 1950 is walkable," Frank tells WebMD. "Also, in college towns it's easy to walk or bike."

Walking-Friendly Environment

Moores, who has a nutrition consulting business in Minneapolis/St. Paul, says creating a more pedestrian-friendly environment will take a commitment from developers and communities.

Some companies with workplace wellness programs offer bonuses for people who don't use the parking garage, or for people who wear pedometers and record a certain number of steps.

Others make cars available during the workday to encourage people to use mass transit or to park some distance from work. That way, a car is available if an employee needs to go to a meeting during the day or respond to a family emergency.

Many city planners are now adopting "Smart Growth" designs for land use that promote livability. Smart Growth includes preserving natural environments; developing new areas as mixed-use neighborhoods of shops and residences; and providing transportation systems that accommodate pedestrians, bicycles, and mass transit as well as automobiles. One-third of suburban respondents in the Georgia Tech study said they would prefer to live in a Smart Growth community.

On the federal level, former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson called for "complete streets" to help fight the obesity epidemic, saying, "Every road being built, you should be able to walk on it or ride a bike on it."

A Walking City

Brian Gabrial, PhD, got rid of his car when he moved from Minneapolis for a job in Montreal a year ago. It wasn't a sacrifice. Even in Minneapolis, he often left his car at home, preferring to walk and ride the bus.

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