If you live far away from your gym, it's more likely that schlepping yourself there for a daily sweat session can feel like a gargantuan chore instead of a quick pit stop that fits neatly into your routine. And when you live right down the street from a fast-food joint, limiting yourself to one sloppy cheeseburger a week is a pretty significant accomplishment, right? Right.
So it's not too surprising, then, that people who live near fitness facilities like gyms, pools, and playing fields—and farther from fast food outlets—tend to be a little bit leaner, according to a new study published in The Lancet Public Health.
Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine looked at data from the U.K. Biobank to find out whether the number of fitness facilities near someone's home affects their waist circumference, BMI, and body-fat percentage. They found that, on average, most people had only one fitness facility within a kilometer (about 0.62 miles) of their homes, and a third of them didn't even have one within that distance.
But those who had better access to gyms, pools, or playing fields—with at least six nearby—had about a half-inch less on their waistlines, 0.81% less body fat, and an average BMI of 0.57 less than the people without access to such facilities. The data set was massive: 401,917 waist measurements, 401,435 BMIs, and 395,640 body-fat percentages.
Furthermore, living farther from fast food outlets was associated with smaller waists and lower BMIs. This connection was weaker, with people living more than 2 kilometers (about 1.24 miles) away from fast food joints having slightly slimmer waists, lower BMIs, and lower body-fat percentages than people living less than half a kilometer (about one-third of a mile) away. This association was predominantly seen in women, who were less overweight the farther fast food outlets were from their homes.
“The results of our study suggest that increasing access to local physical activity facilities and, possibly, reducing access to fast food close to residential areas could reduce overweight and obesity at the population level," lead study author Kate Mason said in a university press release. "Designing and planning cities in a way that better facilitates healthy lifestyles may be beneficial and should be considered as part of wider obesity-prevention programs." Restricting the number of fast food restaurants in neighborhoods, regulating their proximity to homes, and urging fitness facility owners to open up shop in residential areas lacking in facilities are possible ways to help the issue, she said.
The study doesn't prove that this is a cause-and-effect situation, but it suggests that people's proximity to fast food places and fitness facilities is associated with their waistlines. So if your home is closer to Taco Bell than to the nearest kettlebell, keep your waistline in mind and make that workout happen—without the post-gym (or instead-of-the-gym) quesadillas. And remember, meal prep can be the quickest, simplest way to keep your diet on track.