Built Environment Interventions Increase Physical Activity
The question, “What can a community do to increase physical activity?” is answered by a new recommendation by the Community Preventive Services Task Force. Through a systematic review of evidence from 90 studies, the Task Force found that combining transportation system interventions with land use and environmental design leads to more physical activity.
The evidence shows that combinations of interventions to improve pedestrian or cycling paths with land use and design components increase physical activity. In plain English, bringing the places where people live, work and spend their leisure time within walking or biking distance of one another leads to people being more active.
This recommendation gives the public health and medical communities a stronger basis to work with the transportation, land use and community design sectors to address critical health challenges. Regular physical activity can help people:
- Reduce risk of cardiovascular disease
- Reduce risk for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome
- Reduce risk of some cancers
- Strengthen bones and muscles
- Control weight
- Improve mental health
Despite the health benefits, only one-half of U.S. adults meet the Surgeon General’s recommended levels of physical activity. Even fewer high school students, 3 in 10, get the recommended daily amount of physical activity. Recognizing the vital link between being in motion and reducing risk of heart attacks and strokes, Million Hearts® added increasing physical activity as a priority for the next five years.
Active lifestyles are important to individual health and to community health, as well. Mayors around the country increasingly recognize the connection between active lifestyles and community vitality and engagement. Many lead by example through involvement in the National Forum’s Move with the Mayor™ program and other initiatives that encourage walking to improve cardiovascular health. The evidence supporting such efforts just got stronger.
(Disclosure: I am a member of the Community Preventive Services Task Force.)