As the days become shorter and the weather starts to cool, people of all ages will get a chance to leap into fall and enjoy the beautiful outdoors.
Fall is a great time to breathe fresh air, stretch your limbs, and engage in physical activities outdoors.
Lack of physical activity contributes to obesity, heart disease, stroke, and other chronic health conditions. While many factors contribute to this, one common hurdle preventing people from enjoying outdoor activities in their neighborhood is access to safe places and spaces for active living. Getting the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity a week can improve overall health and fitness, and reduce risk for many chronic diseases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) community health programs are helping communities increase physical activity opportunities and prevent or reduce chronic diseases. Many CDC community health programs promote opportunities for outdoor activity through initiatives that improve community design and increase physical activity in schools, afterschool programs, early child care settings, workplaces, and other community settings. Efforts to create and increase places for physical activity are supported by local businesses, school districts, community-based organizations, and other partners across the country.
Access to More Places
There are a number of proven ways to add safe places and spaces for physical activity. Community members have found simple solutions to make healthy living easier. While some people may not live within walking distance of a park or are unable to afford exercise equipment or a gym membership, local recreational buildings are often convenient. If recreational facilities are available, especially in areas where physical activity is a challenge, many children and families may use this option to include fun activities into their daily routines.
Shared spaces or joint use agreements can reduce barriers to physical activity. Communities are creating joint use agreements with schools, faith-based organizations, YMCAs, and other community centers to make athletic facilities available for public use. As a result, millions of Americans have access to recreational environments for physical activity. In Florida, Broward County expanded many of its open spaces to help residents be active. These spaces, such as school fields or playgrounds, were closed to the community after hours. The Broward County Health Department’s joint use agreements now make physical activity accessible by providing residents with safe, convenient, and inviting places to exercise and play.
In Independence County, Arkansas, school districts agreed to open recreational facilities during non-school hours to the county’s 36,000 residents. Through joint-use agreements, residents can now participate in physical activity and obtain exercise, nutrition, and weight management classes.
Transportation and Land-use
Many communities are built in ways that make it difficult or unsafe to be physically active. Access to parks and recreation centers may be difficult and safe routes for walking or biking to school, work, or playgrounds may not exist. In many neighborhoods across the country, walking, running, and biking can be dangerous due to heavy traffic. If communities lack crosswalks, sidewalks, and bicycle facilities, it is harder for people to walk, run, bike, or play, especially in underserved areas such as rural frontiers or inner-cities.
Communities can examine how streets, public spaces, and neighborhoods are designed. Communities can also increase safety with improved access to public transportation and better street lighting, street crossings, and sidewalks. Studies show higher physical activity rates in areas where residents are able to walk and bicycle to common places. More than 145 million adults now include walking as part of a physically active lifestyle. For example, more than 6 in 10 people walk for transportation, fun, relaxation, exercise, or for activities such as walking the dog. Research suggests that two out of three adults support street design improvements that make walking and biking easier in their neighborhoods.
There is no single solution to combating chronic diseases. We need broad and ongoing efforts to get people outside and moving. State governments, businesses, and communities can work together to rebuild neighborhoods into places that make physical activity safe and easy for everyone.
Visit the following web sites for great resources on how to reduce or prevent chronic diseases and chronic conditions by increasing healthy eating and physical activity, and reducing exposure to tobacco.
For more information about how to make healthier community planning, transportation, and land-use decisions visit Designing and Building Healthy Places.
The Division of Community Health is dedicated to making healthy living easier where Americans live, learn, work, and play. To learn more, please visit the DCH’s Making Healthy Living Easier web site.