Encouraging daily physical activity as a means for improving overall health is one of the main branches of environmental change in MCAH programs. Strategies for increasing physical activity have included new curricula for school physical education, fitness and active lifestyle classes and programs at community recreation centers, and increasing the walkability of communities. Increasing walkability has been an especially important goal, as it has been shown that residents of walkable neighborhoods who have good access to recreation facilities are more likely to be physically active and less likely to be overweight or obese4, as described in the Environment and Systems Interventions Report. One study concluded that residents of easily walkable neighborhoods engage in an extra 70 minutes of physical activity each week and are 2.4 times more likely to meet physical activity recommendations than residents that live in less walkable neighborhoods. However, less than a third of adults in California reported participating in vigorous physical activity at least three times per week. Therefore, creating safe and inviting areas through which to walk and bike and pursuing joint-use agreements to ensure that recreational facilities are accessible to the community may increase physical activity levels and improve the well-being of the entire family.
Safe Routes to School
Initiatives such as Safe Routes to School provide a safe way for children to exercise regularly by walking or biking to school. According to the Environment and Systems Intervention Report, the percentage of children 5-14 years of age walking or biking to school dropped from 48% to just 13% from 1969 to 200927. Environmental factors, such as distance to school, traffic-related danger, and crime danger or perceived safety, are likely to have played a major role in this decrease. Safe Routes to School addresses these issues through infrastructural and non-infrastructural interventions. Infrastructural interventions include grants for better crosswalks and signage, while non-infrastructural interventions may include Walk to School Day or organizing Walking School Buses so that groups of children have adult chaperones when walking to school. A California study referenced in the Environment and Systems Intervention Report showed that schools that implemented infrastructure interventions through Safe Routes to School had walking and bicycling increases in the range of 20 to 200%29. In Marin County’s second year of enacting the Safe Routes to School Program, participating schools reported an increase of 64% in school trips made by walking and 114% by biking. They reported a 39% decrease in trips by private vehicles carrying only one student. Moreover, a safety analysis estimated that the safety benefit of the program was an approximate 49% decrease in childhood bicycle and pedestrian collision rates.
Joint Use Agreements
Increasing levels of physical activity in a community does not always require long-term development projects, but can also be achieved by increasing access to existing recreational facilities. Establishing joint-use agreements, such as opening school yards to the community after school hours, is one way to reduce barriers to safe places and provide opportunities for engaging in physical activity. Joint-use agreements can be formal or informal partnerships between two entities – usually a school and a city – to share use of indoor and outdoor spaces such as gymnasiums and athletic fields. For example, a school could share their pool with a swim team or a school employee could unlock the school gate after hours so people in the community have access to the basketball courts. This agreement is ideal for rural or low-income populations that may otherwise lack access to physical activity facilities.
Pedestrian Safety and Walkability
Environments that encourage physical activities such as walking and biking are ideal for improving a community's health and preventing chronic illnesses. It is therefore important to ensure that the environment is conducive to this sort of daily physical activity. First, it is important to note that mixed land use, connectivity, safety, and aesthetic qualities all contribute to the "walkability" of a place7, as described in the Environment and Systems Intervention Report. "Walkability" refers to how safe, convenient, and usable facilities are for pedestrians and bikers to get to their destinations. Safe and attractive sidewalks that are destination-oriented, especially with required mixed-land use zoning so that people live near where they work, shop, and play, may encourage more members of communities to walk or bike as their primary mode of transportation.
The Active Transportation Safety Program (ATSP) assists local communities with creating, evaluating, and sustaining active transportation education and encouragement (non-infrastructure) programs, including Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs, through targeted trainings, technical assistance, and resources.
California Walks is a state-wide voice that partners with state agencies, organizations and communities to establish and strengthen policies and practices that support pedestrian safety and healthy, walkable communities. Links to network affiliates and further resources available on website.
Pedestrian Safety Training : Power Point presentation sponsored by California Office of Traffic Safety and presented by CDPH describing “It’s All Up to Us” campaign.
Walkability Checklist (PDF) : A tool to help evaluate your community’s walkability and provides solutions for improvement. Developed in partnership by A Walkable America, Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, the US Department of Transportation, and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Walk Friendly Communities : Applications for designating your community as Walk Friendly. The website also includes an assessment tool for determining how walkable your community is.
Walking 101: The Role of Maternal, Child, and Adolescent Health Programs :
This webinar highlights the opportunities to promote walking for those working in Maternal, Child, and Adolescent Health.
Increasing access and physical activity in parks can help launch a culture of active communities and increase awareness and appreciation for parks and nature. Work with local parks can include specific programs like Parks Rx, Parks After Dark, and others, and includes partnership activities with parks departments and other partners to increase access to services, and safe recreation areas.