urban planning

Life is Short, So Walk Fast by Anne Kreamer

The conventional wisdom is that people who choose to live in gritty, polluted, urban areas are thereby putting their health at risk. But a piece in New York magazine, “Why New Yorkers Live Longer,” effectively debunked the myth that people in cities lead any less robust lives or die younger than their country or suburban cousins.

Several factors contribute to New Yorkers living longer – AIDs deaths have declined, the homicide rate is radically lower, and the 2003 ban on smoking in public places has already reduced the number of deaths attributed to smoking by 10 percent. But among the most surprising reasons New Yorkers live longer may simply be because New Yorkers not only walk more, but also walk faster.

Eleanor Simonsick, an epidemiologist, conducted research to determine whether the speed someone walked affected overall health. According to New York Magazine, she and a group of fellow researchers “assembled 3,075 seniors in their seventies and asked them to traverse a 400-meter course, walking as fast as they could. They monitored their subjects’ health over the next six years, during which time 430 of the people died and many more fell ill.

"When Simonsick crunched the data, she found that the ones who were dying and getting sick tended to be the ones who walked the slowest. For every minute longer it took someone to complete the 400-meter (quarter mile) walk, he or she had a 29 percent higher chance of dying.”

But quantity is also important. As Clive Thompson, the author of the story, writes, “This idea of the city as a health club is fairly revolutionary.” In a study of 10,858 people living in Atlanta, Lawrence Frank, a professor of urban planning at the University of British Columbia, discovered that a “white man who lived in a more urban, mixed-use area was fully ten pounds lighter than a demographically identical guy who lied in a sprawling suburb.”  According to Frank, “the more you drive, the more you weigh.”

So, the next time I’m frantically rushing to my next appointment, instead of stressing, I’ll be grateful that I may be adding a few extra minutes to my life.