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Fit to be downtown

Hey – wanna get fit? Then ditch that suburban spread, move away from the condo bordering the golf course and – by all means – back away from the ravine.

Concrete jungle's where you want to be. Stick to city living if you want to improve your chances at maintaining a healthy weight - if you believe some of the research that's out there.

Even urban birds seem to have a better handle on getting by than their rural cousins.

Now Dutch researchers are saying that living close to green space may not be the inducement you need to get active. The research published in the online journal BMC Public Health, found that people who live near green spaces walk and cycle less often and for shorter periods of time than people in more urban environments.

The study involved almost 5,000 Dutch residents who responded to questions about their levels of physical activity and how they perceived their health. Lead researcher Jolanda Maas said the study suggests that people who live near green spaces walked less often, relying more heavily on their cars, probably because stores and other facilities were further away.

Her take: if you want to get in more walking and cycling in your leisure time, live closer to the places you want to get to.

The findings echo the results of some other studies that looked at people's activity levels in relation to where they live. Your chances of being obese tend to be higher if you live in a rural community than in an urban area, according to one study from Saint Louis University School of Public Health. It found that if you live relatively far from places like recreational facilities, stores, churches and schools, you're at greater risk of putting on too much weight. Again, because you're relying too heavily on your car.

But the relationship between human sprawl and life in the suburbs may not be as clear-cut. A two-year-old study out of the University of Toronto, the London School of Economics and Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Spain found that while people who live in sprawling suburbs tend to be heavier than those who live in areas where development is denser, it may be because people at greater risk for obesity prefer to live in suburbs.

The study followed 6,000 people for six years. During that period, 80 per cent of the individuals moved at least once. People who moved from compact urban areas to more sprawling areas did not gain weight.

Still, you'd be making a mistake if you thought that an urban address automatically improves your chances of maintaining a healthy weight. It has to be the right urban address. If healthy grocery shopping is too far away and high calorie fast food is too easily available, you may be setting yourself up for some regional expansion.

It goes to show, if you want to be fit and maintain a healthy weight, you have to take responsibility and make some healthy choices – no matter where you live.

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