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If you're over 50 and wondering whether a change to a more active urban lifestyle is right for you, consider this: studies often find that living in a walkable neighborhood may slow down aging and promote both health and happiness.
Living in a walkable neighborhood where you are able to do your grocery shopping and other errands on foot makes it easier to squeeze in the CDC's recommended 30 minutes of daily walking. And walking can have many health benefits for people over 50, from reducing the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease to building bone density and protecting joint mobility. Walking briskly for an hour a day promotes weight loss and studies show that people who live in walkable neighborhoods are less likely to be obese.
One of the biggest benefits of living in a walkable neighborhood may be the mental health boost it provides. On the one hand, walking every day has been shown to strengthen brain function to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and other age-related forms of dementia and memory loss. But walking may also make people happier and reduce their risk for depression. These mental effects are partly due to their impact on our body’s improved functioning (walking can make us more alert and fit), but also because walking often increases social interactions with other people.
In fact, there’s a lot of evidence that people who walk in their neighborhoods feel more connected to their community, and being connected to a community is known to make people mentally more resilient and better able to cope with adverse events such as illness or job loss. And even if you don’t meet anyone in particular during these walks, routine encounters with “familiar strangers,” such as neighbors who are out walking their dog in the morning when you are headed to the Metro, can turn into stronger neighborly bonds over time, or even friendships.
While these are some of the many benefits of an urban lifestyle, not all walkable neighborhoods are the same. In order to realize some of these advantages, urban designers say neighborhoods should have plenty of access to green spaces, common-use areas and safe pedestrian crossings. Finally, a walkable neighborhood should promote enjoyment – with the opportunity to engage with neighbors, have easy access to shopping, dining, entertainment and recreation, as well as meaningful destinations.
Choosing a neighborhood that meets your particular needs is perhaps the most important thing of all. If you’re over 50 and recently gained back some time after the kids moved out, you might want to live in an area where you can walk to a diverse selection of restaurants or entertainment venues with live music or a museum. Some neighborhoods offer a wide variety of learning options like yoga or art classes, or volunteering opportunities.
At EYA, we appreciate that walkability offers important benefits to individuals as well as to entire communities — so much so, that we’ve designed all our new neighborhoods to deliver “life within walking distance®.” To find a walkable EYA neighborhood that's right for you, take our Neighborhood Quiz.