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Warning: Living in the Suburbs May be Hazardous to Your Health!

If you work and live in a metropolitan area, large or small, chances are excellent that you have some commuting to do, and sometimes long distances too. Up to now, you may have thought dodging cars and pedestrians while talking to your spouse on your cel phone about Junior's soccer practice were your only stressors. Not by a long shot!

People who live in areas with a high degree of sprawl are more likely to report chronic health problems such as high blood pressure, arthritis, headaches and breathing difficulties compared to residents in less sprawled-out areas, according to a new report by the non-profit Rand Corp.

In fact, the differences remained even when researchers accounted for factors such as age, economic status and race.

A sprawling area is defined in the study as a place that has streets not well connected, lower population density and areas that are far from each other, such as schools and shopping malls.

The key to the problem: People drive more in suburban sprawl and walk less.

For example, an adult who lives in a sprawling city like Atlanta will have health characteristics similar to someone four years older, but otherwise similar, who lives in a more compact city like Seattle.

The Rand report confirms studies completed last year that suggested sprawl cramps a healthy lifestyle. In areas where driving to work or school is routine and walking and bike riding difficult or dangerous, residents weighed more than their counterparts in walkable cities like New York.

Studies like these just hammer home the fact that exercise is a critical component of good health, especially as you age. The trick is to find the right exercise program for you and stick to it. If you don't think you can afford to join a health club, try walking. It's effective, low-impact and requires little equipment, other than a good pair of running shoes.

CBS News September 27, 2004

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