Physical activity: Public pathways
Regular physical activity is important because it reduces the risk of diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes, obesity and certain cancers. In 2015, approximately 994 new cancers diagnosed in Alberta were linked to low physical activity.1
Community environments can positively influence community members to increase their physical activity, particularly the built environment (e.g., pathways, public walking routes, sidewalks).2,3 The availability of bike paths, for example, can increase rates of cycling for the purposes of both commuting and recreation.4,5
Ways to get started
- Create a map of existing paths and trail routes by working with community members. Post the maps at strategic locations along those pathways. Pathway maps can promote and encourage walking6 and other active modes of transportation.
- Make existing paths safer and more attractive through snow removal plans, installing or fixing benches and shades, ensuring adequate lighting, posting clear signage, having water fountains, or creating reserved parking at trailheads. The municipality will be a key partner in these.
- Create new public pathways by working with municipalities. When creating new paths, consider environmental and the health impacts the location can have, such as accessible terrain, distance from the community, closest support facility, public transit and other existing infrastructure.7 Consult the municipal planner and/or use existing tools to support these decisions.
- Encourage mixed trail use (e.g., bike, rollerblades, skateboards, strollers) by installing features that meet various needs.
- Encourage walking for the purposes of both commuting and recreation.2,6,8
- Have safe indoor and outdoor walking areas in or around community facilities and organizations, such as outdoor paths, indoor gyms or hallways.
- Raise awareness about the new or existing paths through multiple communication strategies, including media, education and social marketing to get the word out.
- Design an awareness campaign around the benefits of physical activity alongside the bike path launch or revitalization.
Amplify your impact
For further action to increase physical activity in your community, see
- Awareness and education strategy,
- Bike racks or shelters strategy,
- Creating inclusive programming strategy,
- Active transportation for schools strategy,
- Stairwell use strategy,
- Affordable opportunities strategy.
Multi-component community-wide interventions that increase awareness about and provide opportunities for physical activity in your community will have greater impact than implementing single, one-off strategies.
Evaluation measures the impact of all the hard work that went into developing a community initiative. Evaluating impact examines:
- What you expect to learn or change
- What you measure and report
- How to measure impact
What you expect to learn about public pathways may include:
- Increased number of new paths
- Increased use of the path
- Increased motivation to do physical activity
- Increased linkages to existing infrastructure
- Friedenreich CM, Barberio AM, Pader J, Poirier AE, Ruan Y, Grevers X, Walter SD, Villeneuve PJ, Brenner DR. Estimates of the current and future burden of cancer attributable to lack of physical activity in Canada. Preventive Medicine. 2019;122:65-72.
- Troped PJ, Saunders RP, Pate RR, Reininger B, Ureda JR, Thompson SJ. Associations between self-reported and objective physical environmental factors and use of a community rail-trail. Preventive medicine. 2001;32(2):191-200.
- Saelens BE, Handy SL. Built environment correlates of walking: a review. Medicine and science in sports and exercise. 2008;40(7 Suppl):S550-566
- Woodcock J, Tainio M, Cheshire J, O'Brien O, Goodman A. Health effects of the London bicycle sharing system: health impact modelling study. BMJ: British Medical Journal. 2014;348:g425.
- Hunt JD, Abraham JE. Influences on bicycle use. Transportation. 2006;34(4):453-470.
- Brownson RC, Baker EA, Boyd RL, et al. A community-based approach to promoting walking in rural areas. American journal of preventive medicine. 2004;27(1):28-34.
- Sallis JF, Floyd MF, Rodriguez DA, Saelens BE. Role of built environments in physical activity, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. Circulation. 2012;125(5):729-737
- Rural Walking in Massachusetts: A toolkit for Municipalities. Available at: http://walkboston.org/sites/default/files/WalkBoston%20Rural%20Walking.%20Tool%20Kit%202013.pdf Accessed March 12, 2020