Good news: gardening is exercise, too

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Results of a report from Statistics Canada suggest city slickers, who often have the opportunity to do more walking and less driving, are not necessarily more apt to be physically fit than those who live in the burbs.

The recent report, touted as the first of its kind covering all of Canada's metropolitan areas, challenges earlier research that suggested suburban residents are less active than their urban counterparts.

Michelle Lawrence trims a Virginia Creeper in her Riverbend garden in Calgary. - Photo by Canwest News Service

Calgary -

Results of a report from Statistics Canada suggest city slickers, who often have the opportunity to do more walking and less driving, are not necessarily more apt to be physically fit than those who live in the burbs.

The recent report, touted as the first of its kind covering all of Canada's metropolitan areas, challenges earlier research that suggested suburban residents are less active than their urban counterparts.

Michelle Lawrence could spend every waking hour doing yard work.

"I love being out in my garden," says the 42-year old Calgarian.

"I could be out there from sun up until sundown."

And she's not alone, says Statistics Canada.

The study found suburbanites are as physically active as any other city resident.

"It contradicts, in some ways, previous research, mostly because a lot of previous research only looked at one type of physical activity," said Martin Turcotte, a researcher with Statistics Canada, who authored the study.

"People focused on the walking and bicycling aspect of physical activity.

"The difference with this study is that everything is considered - including things like gardening and taking care of your house and the outdoors. All of those are activities that suburban dwellers do much more than those living in the city."

Other studies have suggested the design and urban planning of suburbia might actually encourage chubbiness because older, grid-style neighbourhoods are more conducive to walking.

"Our challenge is to really look at energy expenditure and to be able to measure that in a way where it is not self-report, so we don't have that self-report bias," said Tish Doyle-Baker, a clinical physiologist in the University of Calgary's faculty of kinesiology, who has been involved in similar studies.

Still, she said there is always going to be a segment of the population that is active no matter where they live.

The Statistics Canada study was based on a survey of nearly 6,800 survey respondents from the country's six largest areas - Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton.

It looked at the proportion of people who engage in physical activity for 20 minutes or more, concluding it was no higher in urban areas than in suburban neighbourhoods.

Suburbs include low-density neighbourhoods that consist mostly of single homes, semi-detached houses and mobile homes, while urban neighbourhoods are made up of apartment or condominium buildings.

Although results of the study showed urban residents were more likely to be physically active in their day-to-day travels, those who live in the suburbs "catch up" when other types of physical activity (gardening, housework etc.) are taken into account.

Several other suburban residents said they do use their cars more to get places, but they keep active by gardening or taking their dogs for walks.

The study noted, however, there's one exception in the physical activity of city dwellers.

Residents who live in central urban neighbourhoods - within five kilometres of city hall - are more likely to be moderately active, though the group represents a small fraction of the population.

Lawrence, who lived downtown for several years before moving out to Riverbend, said she can understand why downtown residents are more active.

"I walked everywhere," she said, noting while she misses her daily walks to work, she enjoys having a yard.

Organizations: Statistics Canada, University of Calgary

Geographic location: Calgary, Canada, Toronto Montreal Vancouver Ottawa Edmonton Riverbend

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