The will to exercise is needed for a regular work-out session, but a new research has cited that the neighbourhoods that people live in may also inspire or discourage their residents to exercise and keep physically active.
The results of this study, led by Christopher Browning, associate professor of sociology at Ohio State University, have indicated that residents of neighbourhoods with higher levels of poverty, lower education, and more female-headed families are less likely than others to exercise.
"We can't encourage people to exercise more without looking at the neighbourhood environment in which they live. Some people may have the personal resources and desire to exercise, but don't live in a neighbourhood in which they feel comfortable to go outside for activities," said Browning.
The study looked at levels of exercise among 8,782 residents of 373 neighbourhoods in Chicago. It combined statistics from three data sources from the 1990s: the Metropolitan Chicago Information Centre Metro Survey, the 1990 U.S. Census, and the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighbourhoods Survey.
According to the study, it's not simply that poorer people are less likely to exercise. In fact, it was stated that a person's individual income wasn't as important as the neighbourhood he or she lived in for determining exercise levels.
The results indicated that the social and economic characteristics of a community - including the level of poverty - were the most important factors in determining levels of physical activity. Browning said it was somewhat surprising and noteworthy that neighbourhood characteristics were more important than an individual's income in determining how much he or she exercises.
"The result is surprising enough that it needs to be confirmed by other studies. But if the finding is substantiated, it would show just how important neighbourhoods are, and would have important implications for any new initiatives aimed at enhancing health and well-being," he said.
Another important finding was that neighbourhood context was more important for women than for men in determining how much they exercised and the author stated that women's exercise habits were affected by the neighbourhood more than men.
"This could help us understand why African American women have much higher obesity rates than
This study denied the findings of other research and found that once neighbourhood factors were taken into account, African Americans in general exercised as much as white residents did. Browning said this finding suggests African Americans will exercise more if they live in neighbourhoods where they feel comfortable doing so.
"Neighborhoods where people do not trust each other or help each other and where violent crimes are prevalent may tend to push better-off people away - a process that leaves more people in poverty and deteriorating neighbourhood conditions," Browning said. "All of this leaves an environment that is not amenable to getting outside to exercise."
Browning said that overall, the results show that a wide variety of social and economic factors outside of any individual's control can impact physical activity.
Other studies have found that exercise levels can be increased by improving the physical components of a neighborhood - such as creating high-quality parks, sidewalks and recreation centers. But Browning said this study shows that the social environment in a neighborhood needs to be considered along with the physical environment.
"We don't know the relative role of the physical and social environments of a neighborhood," Browning said. "However, it seems likely that they are constantly reinforcing and reacting to one another. When there is high poverty and low levels of trust in a community, it is harder to mobilize people to achieve neighborhood goals, such as improving parks and cleaning up streets."
Their study appeared in a recent issue of the journal Urban Studies.