Conceptions of space in active living research

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


Urban environments—and consequently spatial planning—impact individual and community health, whether these impacts are unintentional or planned for. A key pathway between health and the urban environment is found in the environmental influences on the prevalence of physical activity and inactivity. With increasing empirical evidence on the relationships between the built environment and opportunities to lead healthy and active lifestyles, the future challenges of this research are in bridging the gap between academic knowledge and planning practice and policy. Despite increasing attention on the role of environmental factors in the promotion of active lifestyles, relatively little attention has been paid to the compatibility of this evidence with the spatial knowledge needs of spatial planning and, consequently, on the ways conceptions of space differ between active living research and spatial planning.  Turning to human geography, this dissertation explores the treatment of space, place, and scale in empirical active living research from two complementary perspectives. First, I discuss the conceptions of space in empirical active living research and how they can help to position some of the methodological challenges of studying contextual factors in multilevel analyses of health behavior. This discussion draws from the results of four peer-reviewed studies focusing on the spatiality of adults' active transport and leisure-time physical activity. These studies follow an ecological approach to health behavior and have been conducted using public participation GIS (PPGIS), a digital participatory mapping method enabling the collection and analysis of spatial knowledge produced by non-expert participants. Second, building on the empirical evidence, this dissertation addresses the compatibility of views of space in active living literature and spatial planning theory and practice. This discussion is situated within the context of Finnish statutory and strategic spatial planning.  The results of this dissertation show that partly differing conceptualizations of space, spatial hierarchies, and scale are found among spatial planning and active living research. Moreover, the empirical results show that while the neighborhood environment forms an important setting for physical activity, limiting our scientific inquiry to this context will, at best, provide a partial understanding of the environmental influences on physical activity and may hide health-related processes operating at different spatial scales. This dissertation proposes that these problems may be mitigated by introducing relational views of space into the study of physical activity-supportive environments. I outline the potential of digital participatory mapping methods, such as the PPGIS method employed in this research, in re-imagining the geographies of physical activity research.
Translated title of the contributionTilakäsitykset aktiivisten elinympäristöjen tutkimuksessa
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Kyttä, Marketta, Supervising Professor
  • Rinne, Tiina, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-64-0469-1
Electronic ISBNs978-952-64-0470-7
Publication statusPublished - 2021
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • active living
  • physical activity
  • participatory mapping
  • built environment
  • environmental health promotion
  • spatial planning


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