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Active Living Fostering Active Transportation and Incorporating Physical Activity Into Daily Life

According to a recent analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 30.7 percent of adult Delawareans are considered obese, and 37.3 percent of adult Delawareans are classified as overweight. People who have obesity, compared to those with a normal or healthy weight, are at increased risk for many serious health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Physical activity plays an important role in fighting obesity. When many people think of physical activity, they think about athletes or fitness fanatics, but physical activity can be incorporated into everyday activities.

Streetscape elements, such as crosswalks, can foster opportunities for active transportation.

Examples of active living include biking to work, playing at recess, walking to a dinner date downtown, or strolling to an event at a local park. However, according to Healthy Communities: A Resource Guide for Delaware Municipalities, a community's design, public policies, land use plans, and recreation programming can influence the extent to which people are physically active. Sprawling land use patterns, lack of bicycle infrastructure, poorly maintained or disconnected sidewalks, unsafe crosswalks, and limited parks and recreation opportunities can all act as barriers to adopting active lifestyles.

Enabling Active Living

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation identifies four main focus areas to make communities more conducive to active living. State and local government officials, nonprofit and private sector leaders, public health professionals, parent-teacher association members, and community stakeholders can partner and work collaboratively to integrate physical activity into daily life.

Active Transportation

While only 3 percent of Americans walk or bike to work each day, these transportation modes are healthier alternatives than driving in a car. A study recently found that people tend to overestimate the time it takes to walk or bike to work by at least 10 minutes. “Active transportation,” or non-motorized transportation powered by human energy, can foster healthy lifestyles and reduce dependence on cars as a transportation mode.

So, how can communities facilitate active transportation?

  • Adopt Complete Streets policies to enable safe access for transportation users of all ages and abilities—including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders.
  • Conduct bicycle-network planning to improve connectivity to key destinations and other transportation modes with low-stress routes.
  • Develop and adopt a bicycle master plan to provide a comfortable, safe, and connected on-street bicycle network, facilities, and routes; shared-use trails; and key connecting paths.
  • Conduct a walkability assessment to evaluate the walkability of a specific area within a jurisdiction and consider strategies and policies to improve local pedestrian networks.
  • Educate citizens and publicize the health and environmental benefits of walking and biking.
  • Use Road Diets and traffic-calming measures to make transportation corridors more pedestrian and bicycle friendly.

Community Design

Communities that are vibrant, well maintained, and safe can encourage people to become physically activity. Communities should be designed to be places that are dynamic, oriented toward people not cars, reflective of a town’s architectural and cultural heritage, visually attractive and enjoyable, accessible and inclusive, and economically vibrant.

How can local communities design its built environment to encourage active living?

  • Consider effective community-design strategies to bridge the gap between sprawling streetscapes and the growing market for pedestrian-friendly environments.
  • Consider placemaking strategies to capitalize on a local community’s assets to create good public space that promote people’s health, happiness, and well being.
  • Utilize the Healthy Communities Comprehensive Plan Assessment Tool to develop a comprehensive plan that emphasizes planning for and building healthier communities.
  • Conduct a Health Impact Assessment to evaluate planning data, utilize public health expertise, and consider public input to identify the potential health effects of proposed new laws, regulations projects, and programs.
  • Utilize streetscaping techniques to install optimal sidewalks, parklets, lighting, benches, and landscaping that encourage people out to socialize, interact with their environment, and discover other mobility options rather than driving through town.
  • Foster place-based economic development initiatives that create a vibrant downtown that attracts pedestrian shoppers.
  • Ensure that all facilities are free from barriers and meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility standards.
  • Zone for compact, mixed-use development that fosters the connectivity of pedestrian and bike paths through compact land use.
  • Provide trash and recycling receptacles to help keep the community clean.

Schools

In Delaware, 30.9 percent of children ages 10–17 are considered obese or overweight. Throughout their adolescence, youth spend much of their time at school whether in an academic setting or through extra-curricular activities. School districts can encourage active living in the school setting, help kids develop healthy habits, and encourage physical activity.

How can schools facilitate active living?

  • Consider adopting a Safe Routes to School program to make it safe, convenient, and fun for children to walk or bicycle to school.
  • Provide daily outdoor recess for children.
  • Establish annual physical activity requirements and a minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity during the school day.
  • Add active-living related material to health class curriculum.
  • Provide after-school sports and recreation programs.
  • Open school recreational facilities (e.g, fields, tracks, playgrounds) for public use after school hours.

Parks and Recreation

Open space and recreational facilities in parks provide the opportunity for people of all ages to participate in an enjoyable, active lifestyle. Studies provide strong evidence that people exercise more when they have access to both passive, open space areas and active recreation facilities such as parks, walking trails, and playgrounds. Yet, some African-American and Hispanic communities have less access to parks than predominantly white communities. In addition to increasing access to parks, recreational programming encourages residents to use available open space more often and more actively.

How can communities use open space, parks, and recreational programming to facilitate active living?

  • Develop parks and recreation master plans to foster healthy communities, promote conservation and environmental stewardship, stimulate economic activity, and provide transportation equity.
  • Preserve open space areas for passive recreation and build parks, trails, playgrounds, and other facilities for active recreation.
  • Create and publicize themed recreational programming in local parks to engage community members.
  • Partner with school districts to make school recreational facilities available to the public after school hours.
  • Form a “Friends of Parks” group to involve citizens in parks stewardship, programming, and conservation.
  • Provide benches, water fountains, shade trees, and trash receptacles to make spending time in the park more enjoyable.
  • Consider installing parks, fitness stations, and exercise trails.

Creating an Active Community

Cooperation, interdisciplinary partnerships, and collaboration are key to creating an active community. Advocates, practitioners, the media, and the public each play important roles in this process.

Active Living Research by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provides many resources to help create an active community. For case study examples and other specific methods for creating an active community, see Active Cities Report, Active Design Guidelines, and Active Living. Local governments in Delaware can access the online Delaware Complete Communities Planning Toolbox for planning tools, community-design tools, and public-engagement strategies to create attractive, inclusive, efficient, healthy & resilient places.

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