Physical activity and urban living : a mixed methods analysis of how urban form influences walking in Scotland
MetadataShow full item record
Despite the importance of regular physical activity for maintaining health, large proportions of the population are sedentary or inactive, presenting a considerable challenge to public health. It is argued that the best way to increase the activity of those who are least active is through encouraging more everyday activities such as regular walking. There is a large body of research demonstrating that more walkable urban characteristics such as high density, mixed land use, better connections and closer destinations, are positively associated with walking. However, questions remain about the nature of the environment-walking relationship. Critics of walkability suggest that the detected association may be due to spatial difference rather than behavioural change. The aim of this study is to explore how neighbourhood environment is related to walking and physical activity in Scotland. There are three research objectives: firstly to ascertain whether there is an association between urban form and physical activity in Scotland, secondly to evaluate the effect of neighbourhood selection and thirdly to provide a meaningful account of these relationships. The study uses mixed methods, with semi-structured interviews being the main research component. A special version of the Scottish Health Survey (N>36,000) is used to create a logistic regression model for predicting habitual walking, showing that walkability significantly predicts variations in habitual walking. Analysis of the City Form data corroborates these findings showing that residents of inner city areas are more like to walk or cycle. For the qualitative investigation, residents were recruited who had recently (<3 years) moved into one of the three case study areas in Edinburgh: Dalry, Restalrig and Corstorphine. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 21 residents, exploring accounts of relocation, neighbourhood use and attitudes toward being active. 12 participants also completed an accelerometer and diary exercise. The findings highlight how neighbourhood relocation is contingent on resources, life events and life stages. Self-reported activity and the accelerometer data illustrates how mundane walking can significantly contribute to overall physical activity attainment. Corresponding with the quantitative analysis, participants from walkable neighbourhood report walking more regularly. However, some participants are more active than others regardless of neighbourhood environment. In conclusion the evidence supports the viability of developing more walkable neighbourhoods to increase physical activity in the Scottish population. Furthermore it is argued that future research could better conceptualise walking as an ambient activity: something enjoyed as part of, rather than incidental to, everyday life.