How walk-friendly is your neighborhood?

It could factor into your risk of developing diabetes, according to the latest study showing how the built environment affects health.

Researchers from St. Michael's Hospital and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences found that people who live in not-so-walkable neighborhoods have about a 50 percent increased risk of diabetes compared with people who live in walkable neighborhoods.

"Previous studies have looked at how walkable neighborhoods affect health behaviour, but this is the first to look at the risk of developing a disease," study researcher Dr. Gillian Booth, an endocrinologist at St. Michael's Hospital, said in a statement.

The study, published in the journal Diabetes Care, included the more than 1 million people who live in Toronto who are between the ages of 30 and 64. Researchers examined their diabetes status over a five-year period, as well as where they lived and the walkability of their surroundings.

Neighborhood walkability was determined by how well the streets were connected, what sorts of stores or destinations were available within a 10-minute walk, and the density of the population of each neighborhood.

The walkability of a city or neighborhood has also been shown to influence obesity risk, according to a 2004 study in the American Journal of Health Promotion. That study examined the walkability of Geauga County in Ohio -- which is considered "sprawling" -- and New York City, which is very compact.

Those researchers found that the Geauga County residents spent 79 fewer minutes each month walking than the NYC residents, and also weighed about six pounds more, on average.

For more ways walking could improve your health, click through the slideshow below:

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  • It May Help Prevent Obesity

    If you're prone to being obese, spending just one hour going for a brisk walk may reduce your genetic influence by half. That's the finding from a Harvard School of Public Health Study <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/15/walking-obesity-genetic_n_1345224.html" target="_hplink">that was recently presented</a> at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2012 Scientific Sessions. "In our study, a brisk one-hour daily walk reduced the genetic influence towards obesity, measured by differences in BMI by half," study researcher Qibin Qi, Ph.D. <a href="http://www.eurekalert.org/emb_releases/2012-03/aha-wml030912.php" target="_hplink">said in a statement</a>. "On the other hand, a sedentary lifestyle marked by watching television four hours a day increased the genetic influence by 50 percent." Not only is it helpful to get moving from behind your desk -- it might be <em>harmful</em> to stay slumped over your computer instead.

  • It Reduces 'Bad' Cholesterol And Increases 'Good' Cholesterol

    Research consistently shows that a simple walking plan can help reduce LDL cholesterol -- the damaging kind, associated with heart disease -- and increase HDL cholesterol, which is associated with heart health. <a href="http://www.bidmc.org/YourHealth/HealthResearchJournals.aspx?ChunkID=414029" target="_hplink">One study</a> in middle aged men found that walking enough to burn 300 calories per day was associated with a significant reduction in the total cholesterol/HDL ratio, which is an indication of better cardiovascular function. The walking plan was also effective in lowering damaging triglycerides.

  • It Lowers Body Fat

    Even if you aren't genetically predisposed to obesity, you can still benefit from the weight regulating properties of walking. Walking at least 10,000 steps a day was associated with lower body fat percentage and lower overall weight, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/16/extra-walking-muscle-strength_n_1154874.html" target="_hplink">according to a recent Canadian study</a> of women, ages 50 to 70 years. In the study of 57 women, those who walked more than 10,000 steps were the only group to have a normal BMI of an average 25. Those who walked fewer than 7,500 steps and those who walked between 7,500 and 10,000 steps were, on average, overweight. But while walking may have an effect on overall body mas, if it's muscle tone, balance or agility you're after, the study found that even 10,000 steps wasn't sufficient.

  • It Reduces Fatigue

    People with fatigue who also lead sedentary lifestyles reported getting a 20 percent energy boost and a 65 percent reduction in fatigue after following a low-intensity exercise program that involved walking, according to a 2008 University of Georgia study. And more, recently, walking was shown to help mitigate the profound fatigue felt by those who were recovering from serious illness, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/04/walking-fatigue-cancer_n_1403757.html" target="_hplink">reported </a>HuffPost's Amanda L. Chan: <blockquote>The new research shows that an activity as simple as walking could help to lessen this fatigue. The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons included 102 people who had just had surgery done for their pancreatic or periampullary cancers. Eighty-five percent of them reported having fatigue at a moderate to severe level. </blockquote>

  • It Improves Mood

    The benefits of walking extend beyond the physical. Just 30 minutes of strolling a day has been associated with mood improvement among depressed patients. In fact, thanks to the endorphins released during exercise, <a href="http://www.arthritistoday.org/fitness/walking/tips-and-strategies/mental-benefits-of-walking.php" target="_hplink">the study</a> -- published in the <em>British Journal of Sports Medicine</em> -- revealed that walking worked faster than antidepressants.

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