Moving to the great outdoors won’t necessarily get you back into shape, study finds

All you rolling stones, beware: Even if you’re looking to find a more outdoors-friendly neighborhood, that won’t necessarily lead to a healthier lifestyle.

That’s according to a study published this summer in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition, in which University of Alberta researchers surveyed neighborhoods in the Edmondton region of Alberta, Canada.

The researchers were looking at the body mass indexes, or weight-to-height ratios, of the study participants to see whether they rose or fell.

They looked at one group as a snapshot in time in 2008 and studied the other group over a period of time, from 2002 to 2008. The second group provided a key piece of information: whether the BMIs of the people who relocated during that time period went up or down – and whether that correlated with where they preferred to live.

They found that people who said they valued a neighborhood for its ease of walking had stable BMIs even after they moved, while those who didn’t value walkability saw their BMIs go up – an indication they were becoming less healthy. That’s not a huge surprise.

Here’s the strange part, though: People who said they moved for a comparably health-conscious reason – to be in a more outdoorsy area – saw their BMIs go up too.

How could this be? The authors aren’t sure. Perhaps it was because the word “outdoors” can relate to very differing levels of activity. Sitting around a campfire eating s’mores is outdoorsy, but it doesn’t exactly burn those calories. Perhaps people are moving so there are more nearby activities for their children (not for themselves), or perhaps it means they end up driving rather than, say, walking to the outdoor facilities.

Until researchers sort out that little mystery, it may be best to incorporate exercise into your daily routine, whether it’s walking to the coffee shop, biking to work or jogging to the park and getting creative with the monkey bars, rather than waiting for time to drive to the gym.

-- Amina Khan / Los Angeles Times

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