News items Leisure walking doubled during corona lockdown

26 September 2023

People walk more in attractive living environments. This has now been demonstrated much more convincingly than before, thanks to a study by the Radboud university medical center in the unique setting of the corona lockdown. In particular, good sidewalks and greenery make people unconsciously walk more. This is important when designing the living environment. 

Previous studies have already shown that people walk more in a pleasant living environment. However, a study during the corona lockdown showed that effect to be even stronger than previously measured. ‘Because of the lockdown measures, people suddenly started behaving really differently, like exercising less and walking more’, says Radboudumc Professor of Cardiovascular Physiology Dick Thijssen. ‘This created a unique situation in which we were able to demonstrate the effects of the environment on walking behavior much more clearly than before corona.’

For example, people in the study walked on average 127 minutes per week more in their leisure time. ‘We expected this, but we were surprised by the strong relation between this increase  in leisure time and the living environment’, says researcher Marcia Spoelder. ‘The better the living environment scored, the greater the increase in walking time. Good sidewalks and greenery played the biggest role. And I find it striking that we saw the greatest positive effects of the living environment on walking behavior in people who walked very little before corona.’

Green space

20,000 people participated in the study. They filled out surveys about their walking behavior. The researchers also looked at seven environmental factors: how close people live to each other, whether streets connect well, green space, landscape diversity, and the number of stores, sidewalks and stops for public transportation. They mapped that by zip code area, based on both the numbers and letters of the zip code, about twenty houses per measurement. Half of the participants lived in urban areas, the other half in rural areas.

The researchers took measurements both before the corona pandemic and during the lockdown. Before the pandemic, a ten percent higher score for the living environment was linked to an increase of two minutes of walking per week. During the lockdown, this effect increased to five to eight additional minutes in weekly walking activity. Thus, the lockdown measures revealed the positive effects of an attractive environment more evidently.

Active lifestyle

The study shows that all the living environmental factors studied influence walking behavior. This observation is important information for people who design living environments. Thijssen: ‘Subconsciously, a positive living environment contributes to a more active lifestyle. Importantly, we corrected our analysis for differences in social or economic status. The environment is particularly important for people who do not move much, because for them every extra step is a bonus. Thus, through smart designing of our living environment, we can potentially achieve great health gains.’


About the publication

This study was published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity: A positive neighborhood walkability is associated with a higher magnitude of leisure walking in adults upon COVID-19 restrictions: a longitudinal cohort study. Marcia Spoelder, Merle C.A. Schoofs, Kevin Raaphorst, Jeroen Lakerveld, Alfred Wagtendonk, Yvonne A.W. Hartman, Erwin van der Krabben, Maria T.E. Hopman, Dick H.J. Thijssen, Lifelines Corona Research Initiative.

More information

Annemarie Eek


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