Safe, Affordable, and Accessible Physical Activity

basketball playground (basketball_playground.jpg)Pricey gym memberships, unsafe parks, and other similar barriers can get in the way of turning free time into active time—for children, but also for adults of all ages. The public and private sectors can work together to lower the cost of sports programs or equipment, ensuring more equal access to recreation spaces and places. Crime- and violence-prevention measures can make neighborhoods feel safer, removing a major barrier to being active outdoors.

Here is a summary of broad strategies that communities can use to make recreational physical activity safe, affordable, and accessible. It is based on a review of expert guidance from the Institute of Medicine, the U.S. National Physical Activity Plan, and others. For more detailed guidance on these recommendations and ideas for putting them into practice, explore the source list and the links to other resources.

Tools to Make Activity Safe, Affordable, and Accessible (tools-to-make-activity-safe-affordable-accessible-final.jpg)

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Read and print the complete list of healthy activity environment recommendations.


Build, maintain, and increase access to parks, athletic facilities, and recreation areas, especially in low-income communities (1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
Increase community access to gyms, ball fields, and other recreation areas at schools, non-profits, and businesses or corporate campuses, through joint-use agreements (3,6,8,9,10,13)
Provide low- or no-cost physical activity programs, facilities, or equipment (e.g. bicycles) for children, families, and adults of all ages  (6,8,10)
Provide economic incentives to promote the development and use of parks, recreation areas, fitness and sports facilities, and physical activity programs(6,8,11)
Increase community policing to ensure safe environments for physical activity (8,9,10,12,13)
Use crime- and violence-prevention measures to create safe environments that encourage physical activity(5,6,8,9,10,12,13)

  • Create safe spaces (improved lighting and maintenance; supervised areas for children); promote community development; strengthen social networks (13)
Use traffic-safety measures, such as expanded sidewalks, protected bike lanes, and traffic-calming street designs, to create safe environments that encourage physical activity (5,6,8,10,12)

Safe, Affordable, and Accessible Physical Activity—Source List

1. Tester JM. The built environment: designing communities to promote physical activity in children.PediatricsOpens in New Window. 2009;123:1591-8.

2. Institute of Medicine. Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the BalanceOpens in New Window. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press; 2005.

3. White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity. Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity within a GenerationOpens in New Window. Washington, D.C.: White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity; 2010.

4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Surgeon General’s Vision for a Healthy and Fit NationOpens in New Window. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General; 2010.

5. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Childhood Obesity: Our StrategyOpens in New Window. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2011. Accessed February 2, 2012.

6. National Physical Activity Plan. National Physical Activity Plan for the United StatesOpens in New Window. 2010. Accessed February 2, 2012.

7. World Health Organization. Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for HealthOpens in New Window. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; 2010.

8. IOM (Institute of Medicine) and National Research Council. Local Government Actions to Prevent Childhood ObesityOpens in New Window. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press; 2009.

9. Health and Human Services. 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for AmericansOpens in New Window; 2008.

10. National Prevention Council. National Prevention StrategyOpens in New Window. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General; 2011.

11. National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity. NCPPA Public Policy PlatformOpens in New Window. Accessed February 2, 2012.

12. Keener D, Goodman K, Lowry A, Zaro S, Kettel Khan L. Recommended community strategies and measurements to prevent obesity in the United States: Implementation and measurement guide.Atlanta: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2009.

13. Prevention Institute. 2010. Addressing the Intersection: Preventing Violence and Promoting Healthy Eating and Active LivingOpens in New Window.

Terms of Use

The aim of the Harvard School of Public Health Obesity Prevention Source Web site is to provide timely information about obesity’s global causes, consequences, prevention, and control, for the public, health and public health practitioners, business and community leaders, and policymakers. The contents of this Web site are not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Web site. The Web site’s obesity prevention policy recommendations are based primarily on a review of U.S. expert guidance, unless otherwise indicated; in other countries, different policy approaches may be needed to achieve improvements in food and physical activity environments, so that healthy choices are easy choices, for all.

Terms of Use

The aim of the Harvard School of Public Health Obesity Prevention Source Web site is to provide timely information about obesity’s global causes, consequences, prevention, and control, for the public, health and public health practitioners, business and community leaders, and policymakers. The contents of this Web site are not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Web site. The Web site’s obesity prevention policy recommendations are based primarily on a review of U.S. expert guidance, unless otherwise indicated; in other countries, different policy approaches may be needed to achieve improvements in food and physical activity environments, so that healthy choices are easy choices, for all.