University Of Tasmania
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From urban neighbourhood environments to cognitive health: a cross-sectional analysis of the role of physical activity and sedentary behaviours

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 10:39 authored by Cerin, E, Barnett, A, Shaw, JE, Martino, E, Knibbs, LD, Tham, R, Amanda WheelerAmanda Wheeler, Anstey, KJ

Background: There is a dearth of studies on the effects of the neighbourhood environment on adults’ cognitive function. We examined how interrelated aspects of the built and natural neighbourhood environment, including air pollution, correlate with adults’ cognitive function, and the roles of physical activity and sedentary behaviours in these associations.

Methods: We used data from 4,141 adult urban dwellers who participated in the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle 3 study on socio-demographic characteristics, neighbourhood self-selection, physical activity and sedentary behaviours, and cognitive function. Neighbourhood environmental characteristics included population density, intersection density, non-commercial land use mix, and percentages of commercial land, parkland and blue space, all within 1 km residential buffers. We also calculated annual mean concentrations of NO2 and PM2.5. Generalised additive mixed models informed by directed acyclic graphs were used to estimate the total, direct and indirect effects of environmental attributes on cognitive functions and the joint-significance test was used to examine indirect effects via behaviours.

Results: In the total effects models, population density and percentage of parkland were positively associated with cognitive function. A positive association of PM2.5 with memory was also observed. All neighbourhood environmental attributes were directly and/or indirectly related to cognitive functions via other environmental attributes and/or physical activity but not sedentary behaviours. Engagement in transportation walking and gardening frequency partially mediated the positive effects of the neighbourhood environment on cognitive function, while frequency of transportation walking mediated the negative effects.

Conclusions: In the context of a low-density country like Australia, denser urban environments with access to parkland may benefit residents’ cognitive health by providing opportunities for participation in a diversity of activities. A more fine-grained characterisation of the neighbourhood environment may be necessary to tease out the negative and positive impacts of inter-related characteristics of urban neighbourhood environments on cognitive function.


Publication title

BMC Public Health



Article number









Menzies Institute for Medical Research


BioMed Central Ltd.

Place of publication

United Kingdom

Rights statement

© 2021 The Author(s). Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0)

Repository Status

  • Open

Socio-economic Objectives

Determinants of health