By: Amy Lansky, PhD, MPH, director of the Community Guide Office, Office of the Associate Director for Policy and Strategy, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Ken Rose, MPA, chief, Physical Activity and Health Branch, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Physical activity is one of the best things people can do to improve their health. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that people of all ages and abilities engage in regular physical activity. Healthy People 2030, the nation’s 10 year initiative to address the latest public health priorities and challenges, includes a series of objectives to increase physical activity among different age groups.
This spring, the Community Preventive Services Task Force (CPSTF) issued a recommendation for park, trail, and greenway infrastructure interventions used in combination with additional interventions, such as structured programs or community awareness such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Active People, Healthy NationSM program, to increase physical activity. Evidence from a systematic review showed that the combined interventions lead to a 18.3% median increase in the number of people who used the parks, trails, or greenways and a 17% median increase in the number of people who used them to engage in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.
What are Park, Trail, and Greenway Infrastructure Interventions?
These interventions improve the built and natural environments by creating or enhancing one of the following public locations for physical activity, relaxation, social interaction, and enjoyment.
- Parks—designated public areas that often combine greenery with paths, facilities for physical activity and recreation, and places for relaxation and social interaction.
- Trails and Greenways—routes for walking, hiking, or cycling in urban, suburban, or rural areas (e.g., “rails to trails” conversion projects). These may involve street conversions that provide opportunities for walking and cycling (most often in urban areas).
What are additional interventions?
These include community engagement; public awareness activities; programs that offer structured opportunities for physical activity and social interaction; access enhancements such as transportation connections, street crossings, and expanded hours of operation; or a combination of these components.
How can communities use this recommendation?
Decision-makers can use the new CPSTF recommendation to increase physical activity in their communities, improve health, and make progress toward achieving Healthy People 2030 objectives and targets. Professionals working in public health, transportation, urban design, natural resources, and other disciplines could partner with community organizations to fund, develop, or implement plans that make communities more activity-friendly and benefit people of all ages and abilities.
Use of parks, trails, and greenways combined with additional interventions also provide opportunities for school and family engagement. Parks may partner with schools and community groups to offer before-and after school activities, highlighted in CDC’s Comprehensive School Physical Activity Program (CSPAP) as a way to increase physical activity among students. Improvements to trails and walking routes to and from school grounds can also support CPSTF-recommended active travel to school interventions to increase physical activity.
How can this recommendation advance health equity?
CPSTF is committed to considering health equity in all systematic reviews, and Healthy People 2030 identifies neighborhoods and built environments as modifiable social determinants of health. Equitable park access can be defined as the just and fair quantity of, as well as proximity and connections to, quality parks and programs that are safe, inclusive, culturally relevant and welcoming to everyone (National Recreation and Park Association 2020). To achieve this, health equity principles and practices can be used to guide park priorities and investments in ways that involve and sustainably benefit communities not historically engaged (County Health Rankings and Roadmaps 2020).
Best practices emphasize cross-sector partnerships, community engagement, and strategic data collection and analysis (National Recreation and Park Association 2020; Trust for Public Land 2020). The Community Guide offers links to implementation guidance that incorporates equity considerations from several organizations (see “Considerations for Implementation” tab).
Ready to Get Moving?
Explore these HHS resources and share them with local decision-makers:
- Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans
- Active People,
- Active People, Healthy NationSM Strategies for Increasing Physical Activity
Learn about other intervention approaches CPSTF recommends to increase physical activity.
County Health Rankings and Roadmaps. Green Space & Parks, 2020. Available from URL: https://www.countyhealthrankings.org/take-action-to-improve-health/what-works-for-health/strategies/green-space-parks.
National Recreation and Park Association. Creating Equity-Based System Master Plans, 2020. Available from URL: https://www.nrpa.org/publications-research/best-practice-resources/creating-equity-based-system-master-plans/.
Trust for Public Land. Toolkit for Health, Arts, Parks, and Equity, 2020. Available from URL: www.tpl.org/the-toolkit-for-health-arts-parks-and-equity.