Have you ever wondered how the design of your community affects your health? From the availability of nearby recreation opportunities, to the number and size of parks and green spaces, it all affects how you feel physically, mentally and socially.
Municipal planning and development play a key role in your health and wellness.
For example, making active transportation options safe and appealing increases the number of people walking or cycling to work or school. Also increasing the availability of recreation opportunities, such as parks, trail systems and recreation facilities, has been shown to increase physical activity. By increasing the amount of physical activity you participate in, the levels of chronic disease associated with a lack of physical activity, like obesity and cancer, decrease.
Giving community members a place to meet and socialize is a key ingredient in building a community. Popular meeting spaces in communities include recreation facilities and parks. By increasing the number of green spaces and recreation facilities, neighbours have the ability to meet and create relationships.
These relationships not only improve your own social network, but also will end up increasing the safety of neighbourhoods. More eyes-on-the-street watching for strange occurrences in the neighbourhood leads to safer communities.
Increasing the walkability and bikeability of neighbourhoods also increases traffic safety. It is thought that when motorists see pedestrians and cyclists, they tend to slow down and drive more cautiously. But in many communities, pedestrians and cyclists are a rare sight with safety often cited as a barrier.
You can also think about the availability of healthy food in your neighborhood or community. Neighbourhood or school gardening programs have been shown to be a promising practice to increase fruit and vegetable consumption in adults and kids.
The availability of grocery stores with healthy foods in communities and the increasing number of fast food outlets may also have an impact on the consumption of healthy foods. Making healthy foods available at home, work, school and play is key to improving healthy eating behaviours.
Creating healthy communities can’t be done by one person, department or organization. It requires many people from different organizations and sectors working together to build a community that makes healthy choices easy and attractive to make. And don’t let winter slow you down. Take the initiative to be involved with your community all year round. Spend time outside, always wearing the right gear and equipment.
For more information on healthy built environments, please see www.communitiescreatehealth.ca or www.healthyalberta.com.