Safe, Affordable, and Accessible Physical Activity

Men playing basketball

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.

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 adultsof 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. Pediatrics. 2009;123:1591-8.

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

3. White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity. Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity within a Generation. 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 Nation. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General; 2010.

5. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Childhood Obesity: Our Strategy. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2011. Accessed February 2, 2012.

6. National Physical Activity Plan. National Physical Activity Plan for the United States. 2010. Accessed February 2, 2012.

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

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

9. Health and Human Services. 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans; 2008.

10. National Prevention Council. National Prevention Strategy. 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 Platform. 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 Living.