Health Impact

Why are ‘movement networks’ important for physical activity and population health? 

Authors: Dr Jerome Rachele, Julianna Rozek, Dr Karen Villanueva, Dr Lucy Gunn, Professor Billie Giles-Corti.

Good movement networks support the community’s health by: 

  • encouraging physical activity through walking and cycling for transport and recreation; 
  • providing safe and easy access to needed services; 
  • reducing social isolation; and 
  • providing places for social interaction.

In Australia, 60% of adults and 70% of children and adolescents do not get enough exercise to obtain health benefits. Safe, accessible and connected movement networks encourage physical activity through walking and cycling. Among adults, local streets and footpaths are consistently reported as the most frequently used facilities for physical activity.  [2, 3]

Pleasant streets and neighbourhoods designed to encourage walking can therefore have a strong, positive impact on health. Short travel distances between homes and local destinations increases the likelihood of walking.  [4] Good public transport networks also support physical activity, as most trips usually start and end with a walking trip. The presence of footpaths encourages transport and recreational walking across the life course.  Incorporating design features that deter crime into street scapes (e.g. natural surveillance from houses and in parks) encourages more walking.   

Movement networks that do not provide convenient walking, cycling and public transport options encourage private car use. Driving has been linked to increasing the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease and cancer.  [5-7] Motor vehicle traffic is also a major source of urban air pollution and noise, which is harmful to physical, mental and environmental health.  [8] The presence of traffic discourages walking in more vulnerable groups, particularly children and older adults.  [9, 10]

Good connectivity between homes and important facilities and services - such as community centres, schools and health care - can reduce social isolation.  [10] This is especially important for vulnerable groups including children, older persons and those with a disability.  

Streets designed to be places, not just thoroughfares, can encourage social interaction. They can be places for people to gather, walk, relax, meet, sit and talk. Residential streets can also provide opportunities for young people to play sports and games.  [11]