Recreation Management Rec Report - The Newsletter for Recreation, Sports & Fitness Facility Managers

Feature Story

June 2017

Building Communities to Encourage Physical Activity

By Dave Ramont

The Community Preventive Services Task Force is an independent, nonfederal, unpaid panel of public health and prevention experts that provides evidence-based findings and recommendations about community preventive services, programs and policies that aim to improve health. Task Force members are appointed by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

And now, in an effort to promote and increase physical activity among residents, the Task Force recommends combined built environment intervention approaches. These approaches make physical activity simpler or more accessible by creating or updating various environmental characteristics in a community. The approaches combine new or enhanced transportation systems, such as bike trails or pedestrian paths, with new or enhanced land use design. This could include proximity to stores or coffee shops, or access to public parks or ballfields.

The Task Force came to this conclusion after reviewing evidence showing that combinations of activity-friendly built environment characteristics are associated with higher levels of transportation-related physical activity, recreational physical activity and overall total walking.

Transportation system interventions include certain projects or policies designed to increase or improve sidewalk and trail infrastructure, bicycle infrastructure, street connectivity, and public transit infrastructure and access.

Environmental design and land use interventions include various designs, projects or policies to create or enhance mixed land use environments that increase the diversity and proximity of local destinations. These destinations include not only where people live and work, but also where they spend their leisure time, such as parks and other public or private recreational facilities.

Many communities are looking for ways to help inspire their residents to exercise, knowing that regular physical activity is crucial when it comes to overall health. It strengthens bones and muscles and can help control weight. It helps reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and some cancers. And regular exercise can improve mental health and mood. Yet despite these known benefits, less than half of all adults in the United States—and only three in 10 high school students—get the recommended daily amounts of physical activity.

The Task Force based their recommendations on evidence from a systematic review of 90 studies. These studies looked at diverse designs, and compared and assessed different combinations of interventions or existing built environment characteristics. They then evaluated longitudinal changes or cross-sectional differences for a broad range of physical activity outcomes. And they found that physical activity increased among those in communities with new or improved projects or policies combining transportation with land use and design components.

The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide) contains all of the findings and recommendations of the Task Force and is available at

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