Built Environment

Hello there!

I wanted to explain a little bit more about what the built environment is since I wrote about it in my second post from yesterday. Here is a definition of this written in an article authored by the NIH:


“The built environment has been defined in different ways by different researchers. Most generally it is defined as the part of the physical environment that is constructed by human activity. By one definition, the built environment consists of the following elements: land use patterns, the distribution across space of activities and the buildings that house them; the transportation system, the physical infrastructure of roads, sidewalk, bike paths, etc., as well as the service this system provides; and urban design, the arrangement and appearance of the physical elements in a community.”

The most common components of a built environment are:

  • streets
  • crosswalks
  • sidewalks
  • buildings
  • green space

Last year, one of the courses in my MPH program was called Physical Activity: Physiology and Epidemiology. This class included a semester-long group project (there were only 5 of us in the class so we all worked together) in which we had to use a professional survey to assess the built environment of our campus. This was a tedious but fun and interesting project that we actually presented to the head honchos of the university. The survey addressed topics such as:

  • Walkability. In other words, how walkable is the campus? Is it a safe neighborhood? Pedestrian friendly? Are the sidewalks even and smooth? Are they wide enough? Are there street lamps?
  • Beauty: Is this an area people will want to spend time in? Is there graffiti? Nice landscaping? How do the buildings look?
  • Health Promotion: Are there signs promoting to take the stairs? No smoking signs? Signs indicating bike lanes?

The built environment is crucial to a person’s health and wellness, and most people don’t even realize that! Think about it. Say your favorite form of working out is running, but you only have time to run after work. By the time you get home from work, it’s dark. You have no sidewalks where you live, and better yet, no street lights. Would you run outside? Because of the built environment, you probably won’t be running much. Think of it in non-exercise terms, too. After all, physical activity in addition to structured exercise is just as important. Let’s say you work in an office building in the downtown area of a medium-sized city. Your office building has large windows, letting lots of light in, and right outside is a tiny park with beautiful flowers, new benches, and just enough trees to provide just enough shade. You’re more likely to get off your butt during lunch and to walk outside to soak in some sun and eat out there. That’s not a work out, you say. You’re right. But it is causing you to do activity (get up from your chair, walk out of the office to the park, through the park, and back) that you probably wouldn’t do if you were next to an abandoned building or a highway.

I told you yesterday that I am not a consistent runner. I will probably never be one of those people that takes a run every day. I run when I feel the urge to run. I only get that urge a couple times a week, if that. Yesterday, I had the urge to run because I so badly wanted to go back to the park and get a good, fast-paced workout in on the stairs and the benches. Without discovering that park, I probably would not have had that urge to run yesterday. Do you see what I mean? Assess your environment. Is it promoting healthy habits for you? If not, is there anything you can do to change it?


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