What is Active Living?

"Active Living" means being active as an integrated part of everyday life. It is both a lifestyle and a strategy to help those at risk for diseases that may be related to a sedentary way of life (such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease) by removing barriers to routine physical activity. Approximately two-thirds of the American population is considered overweight or obese with physical inactivity being responsible for nearly 200,000 deaths a year. It is possible to get recommended amounts of physical activity through activities such as:

  • bicycling or walking to work, to the grocery store, or to transit;
  • taking the stairs;
  • maintaining a garden; or
  • exercise.

Portland's Sunday Parkway program which includes hula-hooping contests and other fitness activities.

Image: Laura Sandt

Support for active living comes from both social norms and features of the built environment and community design. Proponents of active living seek to raise awareness of the effects of community design on health and to deploy policy, land use, and transportation planning to create environments that encourage and accommodate routine physical activity. Compact, mixed-use development -- where residential uses are located close to stores, jobs, and recreational opportunities -- has been found to encourage a more active lifestyle. Residents in a neighborhood located in easy walking distance of shops and businesses have shown a 35% lower risk of obesity.

History of Active Living

Active Living as a field of inquiry and professional endeavor emerged in the mid-1990s from the early work of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and gained authority with the 1996 Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health. In 2002, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) launched the Active Living Initiative, which helped to popularize the term "Active Living."

Active Living Programs

The best-known program in the Active Living Initiative is Active Living by Design (ALBD), a national program that establishes new ways of increasing physical activity through policies, communication, and community design. Other active living programs funded by RWJF include Active Living Research (research to identify environmental factors and policies that influence physical activity), Active for Life (physical activity in adults over 50), Leadership for Healthy Communities (healthy eating and active living), and the Active Living Resource Center (technical assistance). Another example of a program that emphasizes active living is Safe Routes to School, which aims to remove barriers and provide encouragement for children to walk safely to and from school.

Resources and More Information

Frank, L.D. and Engelke, P. (2000). How Land Use and Transportation Systems Impact Public Health: A Literature Review of the Relationship Between Physical Activity and Built Form.

Links to archived presentations about active living by ALBD: www.walkinginfo.org/library/details.cfm?id=4357