NSM Focus | Research encourages exercise during coronavirus pandemic

Date of news: 10 December 2020

Encouraging healthier exercising patterns; that is the ultimate aim of a new research project conducted by Nijmegen School of Management. A group of researchers headed by Erwin van der Krabben, Henk-Jan Kooij and Kevin Raaphorst is examining to what extent our built environment encourages active behaviour. They have been awarded a grant from ZonMw/NWO for this topical project.

The coronavirus measures have caused us all to spend more time at home and 4Q2A1228exercise less. Research has shown that we exercised approximately 20% less during the first lockdown. “People with a low socioeconomic status (SES) are hit particularly hard by the measures’’, says Kevin Raaphorst. “These people often live in areas with limited exercise opportunities. In addition, they tend to have more physical problems, such as obesity and cardiovascular diseases. In the long term, less physical exercise may result in serious health problems for these people. Our study specifically focuses on this group.’’

The Nijmegen researchers are collaborating with Radboud university medical center, the University of Groningen, urban design bureau UUM and twelve municipalities. “We are examining which vulnerable areas there are in these municipalities and which interventions could be implemented to stimulate residents to exercise more’’, Raaphorst explains. “This may include social interventions, such as activities in community centres, as well as physical ones, such as walking routes, benches, tables or playground equipment in a park. Together with the municipalities and residents, we are looking at which interventions work in which areas.’’

Innovative approach

The researchers have been awarded a grant by ZonMw/NWO. The funding organisations are very enthusiastic about the innovative approach of the project. Raaphorst: “Our research team focuses on both medical and spatial aspects. That is new. Health scientists from Radboud university medical center and Groningen will use questionnaires as well as physical measurements to map the health of residents, and they will also monitor the effects of interventions.”

Raaphorst himself is specialised in the spatial aspects. He trained as a spatial planner, specialising in the visualisation of geographical information. “This means I can draw maps to show specific spatial characteristics. This could include anything from nature values or the spatial structure of an area to health characteristics of residents. For this research, for example, we use geodata on the size of houses and the amount of greenery in areas, as well as data from Statistics Netherlands on income, education levels and the value of houses according to the Valuation of Immovable Property Act. In addition, we will visit areas and interview residents to validate these data.’’

Identify bottlenecks

The research will generate design guidelines and a set of interventions. “These will be tailored to specific types of area, so they can also be used for other municipalities. In addition, together with the Municipal Health Services we will design a module for a coronavirus dashboard to map spatial bottlenecks such as places that are dangerous or too crowded. This will not only include places where the risk of infection is high, but also problems such as unsafe traffic situations. Other municipalities can use the dashboard to identify and solve their own, similar bottlenecks.’’

The research project will run for two years. Even though there is a chance that the coronavirus is under control by then, Raaphorst does not expect the research to lose its value. “This pandemic has taught us how important the direct living environment is for the wellbeing and health of people. We will continue to realise this in the post-coronavirus world too.”