Blog November 17, 2011
Green Space and Mobility
By: Melissa Lem
As the leaves turn and the golden afternoon sun slants low in the sky, these crisp autumn days are an ideal time to stroll or cycle along local trails.
In Toronto’s Don Valley, the quarry trails surrounding Evergreen Brick Works are alive each day with hikers, dog walkers and families, exploring and discovering nature in their city. These types of green spaces can play an integral role in keeping city dwellers mobile and healthy.
A 2005 study comparing 34 cities in the US showed that residents of communities with more parkland enjoyed significantly higher rates of walking or cycling for transportation. Other studies indicate that the presence and proximity of bike trails to home are strongly linked with time spent cycling for commuting and recreation.
The latest Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week. To achieve this goal, adding just a 15-minute brisk walk or bike ride during your daily travels to and from work can result in huge health benefits. Along with reduced risks of hypertension, cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis, research shows that 30 minutes of moderate activity per day drops mortality risk by a staggering 20–30 percent in middle-aged adults.
On the other hand, car-oriented city structures often lead to worse health outcomes. Negative effects of the urban car commute range from poor air quality to reduced social interaction, and stress-inducing noise pollution. The longer you sit in traffic, the higher your chances are for obesity, heart disease and back pain. Some scientists even suggest that cars are the new tobacco!
The evidence is in and the facts can’t be ignored. Green space is more than just a pathway to a destination—it’s a pathway to healthy people, and livable cities. Do yourself and your city a favour, and explore a scenic new route or reacquaint yourself with a favourite old trail on the way to work or play this fall.
A member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Melissa Lem is a Toronto family doctor who also works in rural and remote communities across Canada.