Last fall, I downsized – both my family’s bottom line and my waistline.

The day my wife and I moved into our downtown condo, I ran several errands (walked them, actually): to the grocery store, hardware store, city hall, library, deli, bank and health food store. In the weeks and months that have followed, we’ve routinely made all our trips to grocery stores, fish and meat markets, bakeries, cafes, restaurants and the pharmacy on foot.

Since moving, I’ve dropped 10 pounds and feel years younger.

This wasn’t our first change of address in recent years. About 5 years ago, we moved into a new bungalow on the edge of a small Ontario city that’s always in the top 10 on MoneySense magazine’s list of “Canada’s Best Places to Retire.” (Read about Dave’s first experience with downsizing.) But we found we always had to hop in the car to run our daily errands. It was too far or too uninviting to walk just about anywhere, and I didn’t feel safe cycling.

Downsize for financial reasons?

Unless you live in a community with high-priced real estate and are prepared to leave it, it can be tough to downsize your home and have significant money left over to spend or invest. After you prepare one place to sell and refit the place you buy so it’s the way you like it – and also pay the real estate commission, lawyer’s fees, land transfer tax, mover’s expenses and utility set-up fees, and redecorate and replace any furniture that doesn’t fit or doesn’t suit – you likely won’t save as much as you might have supposed.

We saved a bit when we moved last year, but not enough to make a big difference to our finances immediately, or to our ongoing expenses. In fact, the ongoing costs of keeping the condo are almost identical to the costs of running the bungalow we sold. We made sure of that before buying. (Read more about the challenges and advantages of downsizing.)

Downsize downtown for health

Research by the Canadian Institute for Health Information shows that people living in the downtown core of urban centres report having the lowest body mass index (BMI), a widely-accepted way of assessing whether a person is obese, overweight, normal weight or underweight. Compared to people living elsewhere, more downtowners report having a healthy weight.

Agencies such as the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) say that using your body to move you to where you perform your daily chores – it’s called “active transportation” – has important health benefits. In addition to the usual health benefits of exercise, PHAC suggests that active older Canadians might even expect to live independently for longer.

What makes an “active transportation” neighbourhood?

Though I walk to do my errands, jogging, running, cycling, pushing a stroller, skateboarding, in-line skating and manually moving a wheelchair are all great ways to get to work or to handle everyday tasks. But it only works if the places you need to go are close to where you live.

If you’re thinking of making physical activity part of your daily routine, what should you look for in a neighbourhood? Primarily 3 things, according to the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute:

  • It must be safe. Look for well-lit walking routes, separated from traffic, in a part of town that’s not too isolated or sketchy.
  • It must be inviting. Is your walking route too sunny, windy, noisy or unfriendly to pedestrians? Are there comfortable ways to cross roads?
  • It must be convenient. Will you have to go far out of your way?

How to find a suitable neighbourhood

There’s an online tool I love called Walk Score. Just open it and type in an address. You’ll get a numeric score on a scale of 0 to 100, with 0 meaning you can’t really walk anywhere useful and 100 meaning you don’t need a car or public transportation to get to most amenities.

The bungalow we sold last fall has a walk score of 7, and the condo we bought has a walk score of 94. So it’s no surprise that we now find it easier to be healthy.

If you’re thinking of downsizing, think about active transportation and what philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said about walking: “Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness.”