The environments in which people work, live and play shape their lifestyle behaviours. There is now strong evidence directly linking characteristics of the built environment with physical activity. The World Health Organisation reports that changes to the environment alone can prevent one-third of physical inactivity levels.1 International studies on the impacts of environmental interventions on physical activity show:
- good urban design and land use at the community-scale can increase physical activity levels by 161 per cent (such as, proximity of residents, commercial and schools, connectivity of streets, population density, green spaces)
- good urban design and land use at the street level can increase physical activity levels by 35 per cent (such as, improved lighting, ease and safety of street crossings, pathway continuity, presence of traffic calming structures, aesthetic enhancements)
- having access to places for physical activity can increase physical activity by 48 per cent (such as, trails, facilities, parks and reducing barriers to these including safety and affordability). 2
The concept of ‘supportive environments for physical activity’ refers to aspects of the community that help people to easily incorporate physical activity into their daily lifestyle. This may occur through providing opportunities, support and cues for physical activity. For example, compact, connected community environments with a mixture of densities and land uses encourage walking and cycling by creating shorter distances from home to desired destinations such as local stores and schools.3 Aesthetically-pleasing community environments and communities with convenient spaces and facilities for physical activity encourage greater participation in active recreation.3
Neighbourhood studies linking built environment characteristics to physical activity have found:
- residents with a variety of destinations of interest in close proximity of home walk and cycle more 4
- walking and cycling is greatest in areas with higher residential densities that are able to support the presence of shops and services4
- walking is greatest in communities with high connectivity and direct travel routes with few obstacles and major road crossings between homes, shops, workplaces and other destinations. 5,6 This is typically found in neighbourhoods with grid-pattern street networks
- recreational physical activity is greatest in neighbourhood communities that are attractive or aesthetically-pleasing 7
- residents have higher levels of physical activity in communities with access to large attractive public open space6,8-10 and convenient facilities for physical activity such as cycling and walking trails and parks5,11
- high traffic volume and unsafe traffic discourages physical activity, particularly in children12,13
- children travel more by active modes of transport in communities that have footpaths and traffic lights leading to schools13
- residents are more physically active in communities with pedestrian and bicycle-friendly infrastructure to destinations of interest11,13
Councils have roles in urban design and community leadership so play a vital role in the promotion of physical activity. Councils have the capacity to plan, provide and maintain infrastructure and facilities in their community that can encourage or hinder physical activity.14
Implementing strategies to encourage physical activity can also assist in achieving other council objectives — such as environmental objectives of reducing greenhouse gases, improving community safety, improving accessibility — as well as social interaction and community building objectives.
Suggested Corporate Plan goals and objectives
Overall goal – Healthy places for physical activity
The City, Shire, Regional Council <select one> provides healthy, sustainable, affordable and expanded:
- opportunities for physical activity and cultural activities
- choice of and access to transport systems and mobility options for the benefit of residents and visitors alike, regardless of age or ability.
- Plan neighbourhoods that have a positive impact on the community’s health and encourage an active lifestyle
- Design, develop and maintain public spaces that are innovative, safe, popular and meet the needs of the community through the provision of well-planned neighbourhoods
- Provide the community with equitable and convenient access to a diverse range of physical activity experiences
- Provide transport options, through infrastructure and programs, that offer choice, affordability and accessibility, and meet the needs of the community
- Encourage people to engage in activities through the provision of programs and infrastructure15
- Plan, deliver and manage physical activity programs, services and facilities to meet the community’s needs15
- Provide parks that will meet multiple user requirements for physical activity and social activities (with capacity for change to accommodate differing activities over time)15
- Provide public parks considering any risks, safety, function, life cycle costs, economic loss or periods of lost access (for example, caused by flooding)8
- Ensure safe connectivity between public parks infrastructure, including with surrounding residential areas15
- Make residents and visitors aware of the opportunities and facilities for physical activity and healthy eating to encourage healthy lifestyles8
- Create partnerships with state government and community agencies to promote physical activity15
- Strategically acquire land (or designate existing council land) for physical activity and community facilities.
- Prüss-Üstün, A., Corvalán, C. 1996, Preventing disease through healthy environments. Towards an estimate of the environmental burden of disease, World Health Organisation, [Online] Available at: http://www.who.int/quantifying_ehimpacts/publications/preventingdiseasebegin.pdf
- Heath, G.W., Brownson, R.C., Kruger, J., Miles, R., Powell, K.E., Ramsey, L.T. and the Task Force on Community Preventive Services 2006, ‘The Effectiveness of Urban Design and Land Use and Transport Policies to Increase Physical Activity: A Systematic Review’, Journal of Physical Activity and Health, vol. or no. 3, suppl 1, s55-s76.
- Gebel, K. et al. 2009, Heart Foundation Position statement: The Built Environment and Walking. Heart Foundation. http://www.heartfoundation.org.au
- Transportation Research Board. 2005, Does the built environment influence physical activity? Examining the evidence. Washington DC: Transportation Research Board.
- Saelens B., Sallis J., Frank L. 2003, ‘Environmental Correlates of Walking and Cycling: Findings From the Transportation, Urban Design, and Planning Literatures’, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, vol. 25, no. 2, pp. 80-91.
- Frank, L., Andresen. M., Schmid, T. 2004, ‘Obesity relationships with community design, physical activity, and time spent in cars’, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, vol. 27, no. 2, pp. 87–95.
- Ball, K., Bauman, A., Leslie, E., Owen, N. 2001, ‘Perceived environmental aesthetics and convenience and company are associated with walking for exercise among Australian adults’, Preventive Medicine, vol. 33, no. 5, pp. 434–40.
- Giles-Corti, B., Timperio, A., Bull, F., Pikora, T. 2005, ‘Understanding physical activity environmental correlates: increased specificity for ecological models’, Exercise and Sport Science Review, vol. 33, no. 4, pp. 175–81.
- Giles-Corti, B., Donovan, R.J. 2002, ‘Socioeconomic status differences in recreational physical activity levels and real and perceived access to a supportive physical environment’, Preventive Medicine, vol. 35, no. 6, pp. 601–11.
- King, W., Brach, J., Belle, S., Killingsworth, R., Fenton, M., Kriska, A. 2003, ‘The relationship between convenience of destinations and walking levels in older women’, American Journal of Health Promotion, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 74–82.
- Owen, N., Humpel, N., Leslie, E., Bauman, A., Sallis, J.F. 2004, ‘Understanding environmental influences on walking: review and research agenda’, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 67–76.
- Cao, X., Handy, L.S., Mokhtarian, L.P. 2006, ‘The influences of the built environment and residential self-selection on pedestrian behavior: evidence from Austin, TX’, Transportation, vol. 33, no. 1, pp. 1–20.
- Boarnet, M., Anderson, C., Day, C., McMillan, T., Alfonzo, M. 2005, ‘Evaluation of the California Safe Routes to School Legislation: urban form changes and children’s active transportation to school’, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, vol. 28, suppl. 2, pp. 134–40.
- Edwards, M., Butterworth, I., Leslie, E. 2006, Building Health ‘Into’ Cities and Municipalities: Working with Local Governments in Northern Melbourne to develop Walkability Indicators, Deakin University, Victoria.
- Ipswich City Council 2007, Ipswich Public Parks Strategy.