Introduction This study examined the relationship between neighbourhoods and physical activity in New Zealand. We investigated the role of local public places in the lives of residents and how they impact on physical activity.
Methods Four case study neighbourhoods were selected varying by deprivation and the level of physical activity resources. Key informant interviews with 21 local government and health promotion practitioners and fourteen focus groups were conducted across the four neighbourhoods with adult residents, varying by exposure to the neighbourhood, gender and ethnicity (Māori and non-Māori).
Results A consistent theme across neighbourhoods was that local destinations and public places were seen as opportunities to be social—to connect, interact and meet people. While not everyone wanted to be active with or around others, many of the participants that enjoyed being active within their neighbourhood were more motivated to do so as part of group, or as family/whanāu, and valued being active in places where other people were present, as opposed to being alone. Having quality, multi-use, public places nearby made it easier for residents to physically active.
Conclusion The results of this study highlight the perceived importance of social connection and social interaction for physical activity levels, rather than health reasons. Whether people use public places for physical activity may be dependent on how well those places allow for interaction and collective activity. These findings are important for urban planners, local government and health practitioners who wish to design spaces that facilitate and promote physical activity.
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