Physical Activity

Concerns about rising levels of obesity and cardiovascular disease have led to a considerable amount of attention to how the built environment can be designed to create more opportunities for physical activity. Physical activity is pursued in four purpose-related activity categories: work-related, household-related, recreational or leisure-time, and transportation-related. Some have hoped that by creating environments that increase travel walking and cycling, total physical activity will increase. This would have direct health benefits and also help reduce people’s weights. Research to date is mixed, however, particularly in terms of whether the environment rather than social and psychological factors affects total physical activity. What matters is creating opportunities for physical activity, however, rather than saying one environment is healthier than another.

Design for Health (DFH) Materials

Other Resources

Fact Sheets and Posters

  • Active Living Research Briefing: Fact Sheet Overview 
    In this fast-moving research area, these documents provide an overview of older research and public-health recommendations on active-living and activity-friendly environments.

    • Designing for Active Recreation
    • Designing for Active Transportation
    • Designing to Reduce Childhood Obesity

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Journals and Journal Articles

  • Active Living Research: Special Issues 
    Active Living Research, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has sponsored a number of special journal issues, all available online on its Web site. The special issues are listed on their web site.

Protocols, Kits and Guides

  • Active Living Research: Tools and Measures 
    This Web site provides links to over fifteen urban design and park audit tools, produced by researchers from a variety of institutions, including the University of Minnesota, Harvard School of Public Health, and the University of Western Australia.
  • Environment and Physical Activity GIS Protocols Manual 
    Developed in conjunction with the Twin Cities Walking Study, this manual provides protocols for measuring environmental variables associated with walking. It is periodically updated.
  • Mapping Park Buffers: The Minnesota Method. (2005) (716 KB)
    This Metropolitan Design Center technical paper, revised in 2005, illustrates a method of identifying access to open space along a street network, as opposed to the simpler technique of using straight-line buffers. This approach deals with physical and human barriers to park access in a more realistic way.

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Reports and Guidelines

  • Toolkit for Building Physical Activity into Daily Life 
    This toolkit was prepared for workshops held in 2004 and 2005 and in this fast-moving research field, some materials are outdated.
  • Design Guidelines for Active Michigan Communities 
    This document was designed to help Michigan communities integrate active-living principles into their plans, policies and programs. It was created as part of Michigan ‘s Promoting Active Communities program, though its ideas can be useful to people and communities outside the state as well.
  • How to: Physical Activity Plans (2005)
    This document from Be Active WA (Western Australia) provides guidance to Australian communities on how to prepare for, write, and bring to life a physical-activity plan. Additional sections discuss the purpose of physical-activity plans, how they differ from recreation or health plans, and how they are linked to other plans.
  • Sample Pedestrian Plans
    A collection of plans from, the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center.

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Web Sites

  • Active Living by Design: Publications 
    Documents include publications, policy briefs, and research reports that are divided into the following categories: community development; design; land use; parks, trails, and greenways; places and settings; public health; and transportation.
  • Active Living Research: Citations 
    This Web page provides links to a wide variety of active living-related research papers. You can view the list for all articles from 2004-05, or view them by category. Categories include, but are not limited to: concepts and models; health behavior; measuring the environment; measuring physical activity; and nutrition.
  • Planning and Designing the Physically Active Community: Resource List 
    This 23-page resource document from American Planning Association (APA) contains citations for resources in the following categories: popular literature, planning literature, health literature, plans and puidelines, and law and legislation.
  • Walk to School Day
    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, has useful tips on decreasing traffic injuries among children, including its report on National Strategies for Advancing Child Pedestrian Safety.
  • Benefit-Cost Analysis of Bicycle Facilities 
    This tool provides planners, policy officials, and decision makers with a consistent framework to guide decisions about whether to build a new bicycle facility by estimating costs, demand in terms of new cyclists, and measured economic benefits (e.g., time savings, increased livability, decreased health costs, a more enjoyable ride). The research underlying the guidelines and tool itself were developed at the University of Minnesota (Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs and Department of Civil Engineering), in collaboration with Planners’ Collaborative consulting firm and the University of North Carolina- National Highway Safety Research Center.
  • InformeDesign 
    InformeDesign is a research and communication tool for designers. Its search engine provides research summaries on many health themes. Each article summary has the following elements: design issue, design criteria, key concepts, research method, limitations, and commentary.

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