WEDNESDAY, March 14 (HealthDay News) -- Living in a neighborhood with parks, safe areas to walk, grocery stores and produce markets is good for your heart, a new study says.
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Researchers analyzed data from more than 6,000 people who were assessed for seven cardiovascular risk factors: cholesterol, body mass index, diet, physical activity, fasting blood sugar, blood pressure and smoking.
Participants were rated as having poor, intermediate or ideal levels of the risk factors and were given an overall score of their cardiovascular health. The researchers also looked at neighborhood features that affect heart health.
"The most significant neighborhood factors that lead to ideal [cardiovascular] health were access to recreational resources like parks and trails where people can walk in safety and comfort, and the availability of healthy foods," study author Erin Unger, a medical student at Northwestern University, said in an American Heart Association (AHA) news release.
"These are some of the first findings showing that your neighborhood influences your overall cardiovascular health," Unger said.
The study, slated for presentation Wednesday at an AHA meeting in San Diego, also found that people who were younger than 55, male, white and highly educated tended to have better heart health.
"This study demonstrates the importance of where we live," Unger said. "Our neighborhood can play a significant role in our health."
Community gardens, parks, lights and sidewalks are among the ways to encourage physical activity in neighborhoods, she suggested.
Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, March 8, 2012