Healthy zoning’ as important as exercise?

In fact, according to a study covered in Time’s Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin, exercise may not be as important as being in an environment where you’re constantly moving. As the article states, “Many obesity researchers now believe that very frequent, low-level physical activity – the kind humans did for tens of thousands of years before the leaf blower was invented – may actually work better for us than the occasional bouts of exercise you get as a gym rat. It would be better to distribute the movements throughout the day.”

Of course, here we are again looking at walkable communities as a healthy solution. In fact, the folks at the United Health Foundation, The Urban Design Lab at the Earth Institute at Columbia University and Collaborative Initiatives at MIT provide a simple framework for such frequent, low-level physical activity, calling it healthy zoning (see image above).

From their report, Curbing Childhood Obesity, “Local projects have increasingly engaged zoning, community advocacy, and policy initiatives to create healthy local communities. Healthy zoning could create incentives for healthy food retailers to locate in underserved areas, limit the number of fast-food outlets in food deserts, support urban and suburban agriculture, and create pedestrian zones and bicycle pathways.” You can download the report here.

The image above hardly needs explanation. Health is the primary reason for the weekly Ciclovia street closure in El Paso, Texas, initiated in Bogota, Colombia, inspiring similar programs throughout the U.S., and even the closing of NYC’s Times Square to cars completely.

Thanks to Erin Caricofe for the reference.

  • The other close pairing to zoning (and land use planning) is transportation. And here in Portland the name for health-motivated transportation has become Active Transportation. Active as in Walk & Bike. Connect that with zoning supportive of Active Transportation (as you describe in this article) and you have a community built for healthy rather than lazy-convenience.