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Live close to a gym? You're probably a bit trimmer

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(HealthDay News) -- When it comes to staying fit, research suggests it really is about location, location, location.

In a new British study, middle-aged adults and seniors who had homes close to gyms and other exercise facilities tended to be trimmer than those who didn't.

By the same token, those who didn't live near fast-food restaurants also tended to keep the pounds off, the findings showed.

"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," said study author Kate Mason.

She's with the faculty of epidemiology and population health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

"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," Mason said in a school news release.

The new finding stems from an analysis conducted between 2006 and 2010 that looked at body weight composition among roughly 400,000 British men and women between the ages of 40 and 70.

Study participants were variously assessed in terms of their waist circumference, their body mass index (or BMI, a measurement based on height and weight), and/or their body fat percentages.

The investigators then looked to see how closely the participants lived to either indoor or outdoor sports facilities, including gyms, swimming pools and playing fields. The study did not include proximity to other types of facilities, such as public parks or cycling and walking paths.

The study team found that, on average, most people lived within 1 kilometer (a bit more than half a mile) from a single exercise facility. However, one-third of the participants did not.

In the end, the researchers determined that those who had the best access to a nearby exercise facility were less overweight than those who had poor access.

Specifically, living near a minimum of six such facilities translated into having about a half-inch smaller waist, about a half-point lower BMI reading and less body fat.

That said, the link between being trimmer and facility proximity was more apparent among women and wealthier residents. And the study did not prove that proximity caused folks to be trimmer.

The research team also observed that, on average, study participants lived just over two-thirds of a mile from a fast-food outlet. But nearly 20 percent lived about one-third of a mile from the nearest such establishment.

The researchers concluded that those who lived over a mile away from a fast-food restaurant were likely to be slightly trimmer than those who lived closest. This finding again appeared to apply more strongly to women than men.

The report was published online Dec. 12 in The Lancet Public Health.

In an accompanying commentary, Pablo Monsivais from Washington State University wrote that the study is "a milestone in the field of built environments and obesity."

But he added that "the authors themselves concede that better food environment measures would have produced more robust evidence. This acknowledgment is especially important because of this article's potential influence on policy and practice."

More information

There's more on healthy weight recommendations at the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

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