Active living is a way of life that integrates physical activity into everyday routines, such as walking to the store or biking to work. It is to be distinguished from adding exercises to an otherwise-passive lifestyle, which leaves much of the impact of sedentary lifestyle unresolved. In practice, active living involves a combination of physical activity and recreation activities aimed at the general public to encourage a healthier lifestyle. Places such as parks, fitness centres (close to the home or workplace), walking trails and bike lanes for transportation also encourage a more active lifestyle. Active living brings together urban planners, architects, transportation engineers, public health professionals, activists and other professionals to build places that encourage active living and physical activity. One of the most important issues communities face is the staggering increase in the rates of obesity and chronic diseases. Active living offers an opportunity to address these health concerns by helping people have a physically active lifestyle. Communities that support active living gain health benefits, economic advantages and an improved quality of life.
To achieve active living, it is often recommended that one engages in at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity every week (or 75 minutes of strong physical activity every week).
Active living is a growing field that emerged from the early work of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with the release of the Surgeon's General Report on Physical Activity and Health in 1996. In 1997, the CDC began the development of an initiative called Active Community Environments (ACEs) coordinated by Rich Killingsworth (the founding director of Active Living by Design) and Tom Schmid, a senior health scientist. The main programming thrust of ACEs was an emerging initiative called Safe Routes to School, that was catalyzed by a program designed by Rich Killingsworth and Jessica Shisler at CDC called KidsWalk-to-School. This program provided much-needed attention to the connections of the built environment and health, especially obesity and physical inactivity. In 2000, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation formally launched their active living initiative. Led by Karen Gerlach, Marla Hollander, Kate Kraft and Tracy Orleans, this national effort comprised five national programs: Active Living by Design, Active Living Research, Active Living Leadership, Active Living Network and Active for Life. The goals of these programs was multifaceted and included:
- Building the research base
- Establishing best practices and community models
- Supporting leadership efforts and connecting multi-sectoral professionals
With the overarching goal of developing an understanding of how the built environment impacted physical activity—and what could be done to increase physical activity.
There are many health related benefits to being physically active and living an active life. Active living can help to reduce the risk of chronic diseases, improve overall health and well-being, reduce stress levels, minimize health related medical costs, help one control a healthy weight, assist in proper balance and posture and help one maintain healthy bones and strong muscles. Active living can also improve sleeping patterns and aid in the prevention of risk factors for heart disease such as blood cholesterol levels, diabetes and hypertension. Running, for instance, has been shown in meta-analysis to reduce the level of mortality from many diseases by around 27%.
Types of physical activity
- Endurance (or aerobic) activities increase one's heart rate and strengthen one's heart and lungs. Examples of these include dancing, skating, cycling, swimming and brisk walking.
- Strength activities create and maintain muscle and keep bones strong. Examples of these include raking leaves, climbing stairs, lifting free weights and push-ups.
- Flexibility activities improve the body’s ability to move and assist in keeping muscles and joints relaxed. Examples of these include yard work, vacuuming, stretching and golf.
- Balance activities improves one's ability to remain steady on one's feet and can help prevent falling. Examples of these include knee lift, yoga and tai chi.
Often, it is not hard to incorporate endurance, strength, flexibility and balance activities into one's daily routine for active living. Activities such as normal household chores and taking the stairs (instead of the elevators) can fit into more than one of these categories.
In Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada supported the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) to review the Canada's Physical Activity Guides, which were updated and broken down into four age categories (5-11, 12-17, 18-64 and 65 & older).
The guideline recommends that children aged 5–11 and youth aged 12–17 participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. The recommendation for adults 18-64 and for older adults 65 years and older is at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week. These minutes do not all need to be done at the same time, but the recommendation is a minimum of 10 minutes at a time.
In the US, in an effort to encourage children to go to school by walking or biking, the Safe Routes to School program was passed as part of a federal transportation bill. This program would provide funding in all states to support infrastructure improvements and programming. These infrastructure efforts include the construction of sidewalks, crosswalks, pedestrian crossing signals—among other roadworks that make it easier for children to walk safely to and from school.
In Canada, there are many active living initiatives currently in place. One of the most well-knowing programs is the ParticipACTION program, which aims to encourage Canadians to move more and increase their physical activity levels. Since the 1970s, ParticipACTION has been motivating Canadians to live actively and participate in sports.
- Active mobility – Unmotorised transport powered by activity
- Automobile dependency
- Automotive city – Urban planning prioritising automobiles
- Basal metabolic rate
- Bicycle-friendly – Urban planning prioritising cycling
- Cycling mobility – Measurement of cycling in an area
- Effects of the car on societies – Overview of the effects of cars on various societies
- Human-powered transport – Transport of goods and/or people only using human muscles
- National Physical Activity Guidelines
- Obesity and walking – Obesity and walking effects
- Pedestrian village – Urban planning for mixed-use areas prioritising pedestrians
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Social influences on fitness behavior
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