In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Active Living

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Physical Activity Networks
  • Textbooks
  • Surveillance

Public Health Active Living
Trevor R. Shilton
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 January 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 13 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756797-0067


Increasing population levels of physical activity is an important public health objective. Physical activity affords important health benefits for populations, including reduced all-cause mortality and lower rates of the leading noncommunicable diseases, coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, and breast cancer. Physical activity is effective in the management of noncommunicable disease risk factors and has important mental health benefits. For children, physical activity helps healthy bone and muscle development and helps children to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. The health benefits of physical activity are impressive and provide justification for the elevation of physical activity as a global public health priority. This article directs the reader to the most important sources of information on physical activity and health and for promoting physical activity. Beyond its health benefits, physical activity offers synergies in relation to other community objectives. For example, by getting more people walking and cycling there are synergistic benefits, often referred to as “co-benefits,” such as reduced air pollution and reduced traffic congestion. Community-level physical activity can increase social capital and reduce local crime. Importantly, a fit and active population also delivers economic benefits for nations through increased productivity, reduced sickness absence from work, and reduced sickness costs. These co-benefits are of particular significance in low- and middle-income country cities where escalating rates of noncommunicable disease coexists with rapid urbanization, and where physical activity has relevance for development. The evidence in favor of physical activity being a policy priority is compelling, and health professionals, governments, nongovernmental organizations, and communities around the world are responding. However, to inform prudent investment in the policies, programs and interventions that will make the biggest contribution to increasing population levels of physical activity, understanding is required of the evidence for the most effective and the most cost-effective interventions. This is approached here through examination of sources of evidence of effectiveness across settings such as schools, mass media, workplaces, primary care, workplaces, sport, and local government, as well as for specific target populations such as older adults. Physical activity is a globally relevant priority. However, the evidence from low- and middle-income countries, while developing, is more limited. Priority is given in this bibliography to several sources of physical activity evidence from low- and middle-income countries.

Reference Works

The US Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health (National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion 1996, cited under National Guidelines: United States) was a landmark document in compiling and publishing the breadth of evidence, to 1996, linking physical inactivity, health, and chronic disease. It was a catalyst in the United States, and more broadly in developed countries, for early development of guidelines and other reference works. The subsequent World Health Organization (WHO) Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health (World Health Organization 2010) and country-level national physical activity guidelines provide a comprehensive overview of the health benefits of physical activity. National Physical Activity Guideline Projects have followed in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. The US and Canadian guideline groups have published their evidence reviews in journals and have widely disseminated these via websites and conferences. For example, the Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Report (Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion 2008, cited under National Guidelines: United States), from the Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee (PAGAC) of the US Department of Health and Human Services, provides a concise yet comprehensive summary of the evidence in relation to physical activity and health. The more recent reviews and published articles developed in preparation for the Canadian National Physical Activity Guidelines have reflected a further strengthening of the body of evidence linking physical activity with better health. The development of physical activity guidelines has been identified by the WHO and other authorities as an essential element in addressing national approaches to physical activity. World Health Organization 2009 provides detail on the contribution of physical inactivity to the global burden of disease. The report describes physical inactivity as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality (6 percent of deaths globally). World Health Organization 2010 is a report on global recommendations for physical activity for health, urging member states to implement national guidelines on physical activity and encouraging them to develop policies and interventions that implement these guidelines. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published guidance for community action on physical activity. Promoting Physical Activity: A Guide for Community Action (Brown, et al. 2010, cited under National Guidelines: United States) is a comprehensive resource for physical activity practitioners and policymakers.

  • World Health Organization. 2009. Global health risks: Mortality and burden of disease attributable to selected major risks. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization.

    Physical inactivity has been described by the WHO, in this 2009 publication on global health risks, as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality (6 percent of deaths globally). A very useful resource to help advocates make the case for greater investment in physical activity policy and interventions.

  • World Health Organization. 2010. Global recommendations on physical activity for health. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization.

    The WHO’s Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health contain a concise and most globally relevant summary of the public health benefits and significance of physical activity. The recommendations address three age groups: five to seventeen years, adults eighteen to sixty-four years, and older adults aged sixty-five years and above. This provides important benchmark information for monitoring, as well as guidance for program developers and for framing evidence-based public education.

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