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Physical Activity

This website is archived for historical purposes and is no longer being maintained or updated.

The Healthy Community Design Initiative, also known as the Built Environment and Health Initiative, is no longer a funded program and the information on this website is not being reviewed and updated on a regular basis.


Physical activity can improve health. People who are physically active live longer and have lower risks for heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, and some cancers.

According to The Surgeon General’s Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation 2010 [PDF – 840 KB], the social, cultural, physical, and economic foundations of a community support a healthy lifestyle for its citizens. For example, stairwells, bicycle paths, walking paths, exercise facilities, and swimming pools that are available, accessible, attractive and safe, may play a role in how much and the type of physical activity people engage in.

Regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health. It can help:

  • Control your weight
  • Reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome
  • Reduce your risk of some cancers
  • Strengthen your bones and muscles
  • Improve your mental health and mood
  • Improve your ability to do daily activities and prevent falls, if you’re an older adult
  • Increase your chances of living longer

Learn more about these benefits at

Adults and Older Adults

Adults need two types of activity each week to improve their health:

  • Aerobic
  • Muscle-strengthening

Get physical activity guidelines here.

Children and Adolescents

Young people need three types of activity each week:

  • Aerobic
  • Muscle-strengthening
  • Bone-strengthening

Get physical activity guidelines here.


CDC Recommendations

To help lead the nation toward active living, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following strategies to create environments that encourage physical activity:

  • Improve access to outdoor recreational facilities such as parks and green spaces.
  • Build or enhance infrastructures such as sidewalks, paths and trails to support walking and
  • bicycling for transportation and recreation.
  • Support locating schools within easy walking distance of residential areas.
  • Improve access to public transportation.
  • Support mixed-use development where people can live, work, play and meet everyday shopping and lifestyle needs within a single neighborhood.
  • Enhance personal and traffic safety in areas where people are or could be physically active.
  • Participate in community coalitions or partnerships to address obesity.


U.S. Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities [PDF – 1.27 MB]
The Call to Action looks to increase walking across the United States by calling for improved access to safe and convenient places to walk and wheelchair roll and by creating a culture that supports these activities for people of all ages and abilities. It includes five strategic goals to promote walking and walkable communities in the United States: make walking a national priority; design communities that make it safe and easy to walk for people of all ages and abilities; promote programs and policies to support walking where people live, learn, work, and play; provide information to encourage walking and improve walkability; and fill surveillance, research, and evaluation gaps related to walking and walkability.

Strategies to Prevent Obesity and Other Chronic Diseases: The CDC Guide to Strategies to Increase Physical Activity in the Community [PDF – 1.09 KB]
This 2011 document provides guidance for program managers, policy makers, and others on how to select evidence-based strategies to increase physical activity in the community.

2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans
The Department of Health and Human Services issued the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans to describe the types and amounts of physical activity that offer substantial health benefits.

The Surgeon General’s Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation [PDF – 840 KB]
Dr. Regina Benjamin, former Surgeon General of the United States Public Health Service, calls on all Americans to join in a national grassroots effort to reverse overweight and obesity trends. This plan shows people how to choose nutritious food, add more physical activity to their daily lives, and manage the stress that can derail their best efforts at developing healthy habits.

Environmental and Policy Approaches to Increase Physical Activity: Community-Scale Urban Design Land-Use Policies
The CDC-funded Task Force on Community Preventive Services recommends design and land- use policies and practices that support physical activity in urban areas. The recommendation is based on a systematic review of all available studies.

Facilitating Development of a Community Trail and Promoting Its Use to Increase Physical Activity among Youth and Adults
This CDC-funded action guide, developed by Partnership for Prevention, provides information on the resources and key steps that help facilitate the development of a community trail and promote its use among youth and adults. It translates a specific recommendation from The Guide to Community Preventive Services into “how to” guidance.

Active Design Guidelines: Promoting Physical Activity and Health in Design
This City of New York publication focuses on the community planner’s role in tackling obesity and related diseases. The publication provides strategies for designers to increase physical activity in their architectural projects. The strategies are rated according to the strength of the supporting research evidence.

Active Living Research’s literature database
This online database features papers that study the relationship between environment and policy and physical activity and obesity. The searchable database includes detailed information on study characteristics and results and improves the use of studies for research and policy purposes.

Active Living By Design
Active Living By Design (ALBD) creates community-led change by working with local and national partners to build a culture of active living and healthy eating. ALBD is part of the North Carolina Institute for Public Health at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Journal Articles

Khan L, Sobush K, Keener D, Goodman K, Lowry A, Kakietek J, Zaro S. Recommended community strategies and measurements to prevent obesity in the United States. MMWR 58:RR-7, 2009.

Humpel N, Owen N, Leslie E. Environmental factors associated with adults’ participation in physical activity, a review. Am J Prev Med 2002;22(3):188-99.

Saelens BE, Sallis JF, Frank LD. Environmental correlates of walking and cycling: findings from the transportation, urban design, and planning literatures. Ann Behav Med, 2003; 25:80-91.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Programs

Obesity, Healthy Weight and Physical Activity


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  • Page last reviewed: October 15, 2009 (archived document)
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