The choice of geographical unit of analysis in studies of the built environment and physical activity has typically been restricted to the home neighbourhood where only a small proportion of physical activity may actually be undertaken. This study aimed to examine the distance from home at which physical activity takes place and how this varies by personal and neighbourhood characteristics.
A cross-sectional, population based study of 195 people in the North West region of England, aged 18 to 91 years, clustered in 60 localities (small geographical areas of ~125 households). Individual socio-demographic data were collected by computer-aided personal interviews and physical activity was characterised by accelerometer and Global Positioning System (GPS) data. The locations of periods of light, moderate and vigorous intensity physical activity (LMVPA) undertaken outdoors were linked to measures of the neighbourhood around the home and distance from home.
Sixty per cent of outdoors LMVPA took place outside of the proximal home neighbourhood (800 m buffer). Distances from home where median levels of LMVPA were undertaken varied by gender (p < 0.05), home location, area deprivation, and car ownership (all p < 0.001).
Objectively measured physical activity appears to vary appreciably by participant characteristics and home location, although for many settings a large proportion is undertaken outside of the home neighbourhood, suggesting the characterisation of neighbourhoods close to home will fail to properly capture the environmental influences on physical activity.