According to preliminary research presented Sunday at the annual American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions, changing the pace of your neighborhood by moving may do wonders for your blood pressure.

The study authors observed the health trends of more than 1,000 couples in Canada from 2001 to 2010, finding a significant association between couples who had moved to "walkable neighborhoods" and high blood pressure risk. More specifically, these people had a 54 percent lower risk of developing high blood pressure compared to couples who moved from one, less walkable neighborhood to another. The walking-friendly neighborhoods were rated based on how easy it was to walk to places such as schools, parks, and stores, among other errand-running destinations.

"Walkable neighborhoods and neighborhood walkability does impact your health," said lead author Dr. Maria Chiu, a scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in a video statement. "Therefore, choosing neighborhoods that are more walkable, if you are planning to move, is a good idea. If you don't live in as a walkable a neighborhood, you can also incorporate physical activity while completing your life tasks."

Chiu and her team used the data of 1,057 pairs of adults taken from the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS ), a "cross-sectional survey that collects information related to health status, health care utilization, and health determinants for the Canadian population." This allowed the researchers to track the participants' blood pressure as they moved from one neighborhood to the next. The team then cross-referenced the CCHS data with neighborhood scores taken from Walk Score®, an open access app that attempts to map the walking prowess of any one residential area. Walk Score's mission is "to make it easy for people to evaluate walkability and transportation when choosing where to live." A score of 90 or above, something known as a "Walker’s Paradise," was considered the cut-off point for a high-walkability neighborhood.

As previously reported by Medical Daily, physical activity is one of the more effective interventions for promoting good overall health, including the heart. The American Heart Association currently recommends that people engage in 150 minutes of moderate exercise (such as walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week to stay heart-healthy. But these requirements can be difficult to find the time for — particularly for those who live in areas where errands require extra driving time to accomplish.

"We need to set people up for success by making walking instead of driving the more convenient and enjoyable choice," said Chiu. "Urban planners and policymakers can do their part by designing neighborhoods that are more pedestrian-friendly."

People can also take matters in their hands by making alternative transportation choices when available.

"For example, leave your car at home and walk to the grocery store or walk to pick up your morning coffee. These are small ways in which you can incorporate physical activity to your daily life," Chiu explained. "It's a much more sustainable approach than forcing people, for example, to join a gym or to do sporting activities, for example."

While this is the first study to consider the effects of moving to a walking-friendly neighborhood on blood pressure, Chiu and her team noted that they weren't able to account for the influence that specific dietary factors, save fruit and vegetable consumption, may have had on blood pressure.

Source: Chiu M, Rezai M-R, Maclagan L, et al. Moving to a Highly Walkable Neighborhood and Incidence of Hypertension: A Propensity-score Matched Cohort Study. American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions. 2015.