Active Design for an Active Nation

In our last post we asked “is the nation is becoming more active?” Even though there is still an awful long way to go, the answer was a resounding yes with almost half a million more people taking part in weekly moderate intensity physical exercise compared with last year.

However, encouraging individuals to exercise through education and as an alternative to pharmaceutical prescriptions, for example, are only part of the solution. What about the communities in which we live? What about our working environment? How are they helping us become active? This post focuses on our communities…

Modern day living doesn’t enable an active nation. In fact, it makes it very difficult to reach the recommended weekly amount of 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise. This is doubtless the result of the last 50+ years of town planning and ‘unhealthy’ choices such as the sale of school playing fields etc., but it doesn’t have to define the future.

Indeed, what if we can design and adapt our towns and cities to encourage people to become more active? Active Design by Sport England is doing exactly this through a combination of practical guidelines and principles to be used by council planners, urban designers and health professionals that promote activity, health, well being and stronger communities.

According to the Active Design white paper from Sport England, supported by Public Health England, the ultimate goal is to “make physical activity the easiest and most practical option in everyday life”.

So, how are Active Design achieving this? They are beginning with encouraging active journeys, like walking and cycling, rather than inactive journeys as we often do today in our cars and end up sitting in traffic. This can be accomplished by connecting schools, work places, shops and open spaces with safe, well lit and clearly signposted footpaths and cycle routes resulting in an attractive thoroughfare and, therefore, an active journey.

Expanding on this idea, having reached the initial destination, if other services and facilities are located nearby it would be easy to make a few further short foot or pedal powered trips rather than several long car excursions. This design approach should work for everyone irrespective of age, gender, background or ability, encompassing many forms of non-motorised transport alongside foot traffic.

Active Design is about creating an environment where many activities, such as running, football, Bootcamp, Buggy Fit, etc., can thrive giving local communities a place where they can come together and enjoy the variety of activities on offer, or just the open space itself. To make these spaces more successful for sport and play, extra facilities such as wifi (e.g. to download a fitness programme), drinking water, toilets and showers should also be provided.

Active Design recognise that safety and quality of these places is also paramount together with continued maintenance and future renovations of the facilities in order to encourage the local community to visit and become more active, and then continue to do so.

The Essex Design Guide is an example of how activity can be built into new developments. Active Design is real. Yes, it’s long term in terms of seeing results across the whole country but every long journey starts with a small step…and this is actually quite a big step.