Designing for Active Recreation

Physical inactivity causes numerous physical and mental health problems, is responsible for an estimated 200,000 deaths per year, and contributes to the obesity epidemic. The design of our communities and the presence or absence of parks, trails and other quality public recreational facilities affects people’s ability to reach the recommended 30 minutes each day of moderately intense physical activity. Health, recreation, and planning professionals want to know how to design neighborhoods and recreational facilities that make it easier and more enjoyable for people to get up and get active.

This research summary gives a synopsis of the current state of peer-reviewed research into what constitutes an “activity-friendly environment” for recreational physical activity. Companion research summaries outline findings on the environments that encourage bicycling or walking for transportation, and the environmental influences on childhood obesity.

Health researchers have studied a broad array of environmental factors that might influence physical activity. It is too soon to say which factors are the most important, but enough evidence has been gathered to show that activity-friendly environments help more people choose to engage in active living.