Skip to main content

Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Knowledge Gateway

A reference point for public health policy makers with reliable, independent and up-to date information on topics related to promotion of health and well-being.

Page | Last updated: 10 Nov 2021

Policy recommendations addressing physical activity

Examples of policy recommendations addressing physical activity and sedentary behaviour

Guide Choice through (dis)incentivesa

  • Introduce national or subnational schemes promoting active travel to school;
  • Introduce incentive schemes for companies or employees to promote active travel to work
  • 'Encourage policies to provide free access to recreation facilities in disadvantaged communities', for example by adding a surcharge to homeowners' rates to keep entry to the local swimming pool free for residents in low-income suburbs.
  • Subsidize public transportation and/or implement policies that provide disincentives for nearby parking
  • Limit or increase the cost of parking facilities
  • Fund municipal -level interventions such as improvement of the number and quality of walking paths


Enable or guide choice through changing defaultsa

Urban planning and transport policy

  • Improve walking conditions, using measures such as increased width of pavement, lack of barriers, presence of trees to protect against heat and sunlight, good lightning, protection from motorized traffic, and improved pedestrian crossings.
  • Improve cycling conditions by increasing the level of protection and separation of cycle tracks from car traffic, providing good lightning and continuity of cycle track network.
  • Community planners and designers, community stakeholders, transportation professionals, and government agencies can encourage walking-friendly environments by doing the following:
    • Designing streets, sidewalks, and crosswalks that encourage walking for people of all ages and abilities.
    • Improving traffic safety on streets and sidewalks.
    • Promoting the availability of safe, convenient, and well-designed community locations and programs that promote walking.
    • Keeping existing sidewalks and other places to walk free from hazards'.
    • 'Reducing speed limits and enforce traffic laws in areas where walking is common'.
    • 'Supporting safe, efficient, and easy-to-use public transit systems and transit-oriented development'
  • 'Governments should ensure that the development of new cities and modification of existing ones support the population to be physically active through measures which should include the provision of safe and reliable public transport systems, safe walkways for pedestrians and recreational spaces such as parks'.
  • Initiate programs to create or enhance access to places to be physically active. This can include building walking trails and providing public access to school gymnasiums, playgrounds, or community centers
  • 'Buildings and campuses should provide active options such as access to stairs, and pleasant and efficient ways to walk within and between buildings
  • Collaborate with neighbourhood residents and local stakeholders to implement improvements and traffic calming strategies that will facilitate walking and cycling such as narrowing roads from two to one lane, painting new lines on the road to guide and slow traffic.
  • Equip buses with bicycle racks and establish roadway standards that require bicycle lanes.
  • Improve built environment factors that favour active transport such as street lighting, pedestrian crossings and pavements, availability of public transport, street connectivity, creation of car free zones, reduction in motor vehicle speed, traffic calming in residential areas.

School policies

  • Member States should provide high quality physical education in educational settings (from infant years to tertiary level), including opportunities for PA before, during and after the formal school day, including school sports.
  • All Member States should be encouraged to increase physical education taught time to at least 5 lessons per week during compulsory education period ( ̴ 5 hours)
  • The physical education curriculum content should include physical activities according to maturity phases taking into account the favourable periods that allow the full development of neuromotor abilities and skills
  • Children with disability or special educational needs should be offered differentiated and adapted methodologies and activities and not be excluded from physical education.
  • 'Qualified and specialised PE teachers should be preferred at all educational levels. When not possible, as a minimum, qualified physical education teachers or certified coaches should counsel and support general teachers'.
  • Schools can promote walking and physical activity by:
  • Promoting programs that support safe walking and bicycling to school to help children be physically active.
  • Reducing car traffic and speed car near schools
  • Developing safe routes for cycling or walking groups, or active skating and providing bicycle racks.
  • Encouraging walking opportunities for students and staff as part of regular classroom activities
  • Making gyms, fields, and tracks available before, during, and after school for students and staff and encourage their use through activities such as walking and fitness clubs and other school-related events.
  • Establishing formal policies or agreements, such as shared use agreements, to make school facilities available to community residents or to allow schools to use nearby community facilities, such as fields and parks.
  • Increase hours of physical education in the curriculum.
  • Offer extracurricular sports activities.
  • Ensure sports facilities and equipment at schools and training of teachers.

Workplace policies

  • Daily work routines may involve physical activity: for example, by holding walk-and-talk meetings, providing bicycles for employees or by launching a take-the-stairs campaign with visible signs.
  • Promotion of 'worksite activity programs that provide access to onsite or offsite fitness rooms, walking breaks or other opportunities to engage in physical activity'.
  • Employers can encourage workers to be physically active, facilitate active transportation by supplying showers and secure bicycle storage'
  • 'Businesses can consider access to opportunities for active transportation and public transit when selecting new locations'

Employers can promote walking by doing the following:

  • 'Provide access to facilities, locations, and programs to support walking'.
  • 'Use policies and incentives to encourage walking, such as flextime, paid activity breaks, or discounts for off-site exercise facilities'.
  • 'Establish walking clubs or competitions that encourage and motivate employees to meet individual or team goals'.
  • 'Consider walkability and access to public transit when selecting new worksite locations'.
  • 'Engage in community planning efforts to make the communities around worksites more walkable'.
  • 'Provide employees with tailored messages about walking in and around the worksite'.

Social support

  • 'Provide culturally and physically safe spaces for free physical activity that are acceptable to young low-income women, including childcare facilities'.
  • 'New measures are required to address the gender gap in physical activity. This includes: improving physical activity participation of girls at school; improving the physical and cultural safety of spaces for physical activity; and working with disadvantaged girls and women to remove barriers to their physical activity'.
  • Support and encourage for "physical activity for all" initiatives, especially for people with disabilities or from minority ethnic groups, including community schemes to improve access to appropriate local options for PA.
  • Enhance PA-increasing networks such as organizing a buddy system (two or more people who set regular times to do physical activity together), walking groups, and community dances.
  • Senior centres can provide exercise programs for older adults.
  • 'Health and fitness facilities and community programs can provide access to exercise programs and equipment for a broad range of people, including older adults and people with disabilities'
  • Link organisations, programs, and support state and local partnerships to promote walking, walkability, and ensure equal walking opportunities for people with disabilities.


Provide Informationa

Public Health campaigns

  • Deliver evidence-based community initiatives, based on social marketing and with innovative Information and Communication Technologies, such as social media (when appropriate), to inform the population about the benefits of PA and to encourage the adoption of healthy behaviour
  • Organise ' Community-wide campaigns that combine physical activity messaging (distributed through television, newspapers, radio, and other media) with activities such as physical activity counselling, community health fairs, and the development of walking trails'.
  • 'Public health departments and organizations can disseminate appropriate messages and information to the public about physical activity'. 'Health-care providers can assess, counsel, and advise patients on physical activity and how to do it safely'.
  • 'Media outlets can provide easy-to-understand messages about the health benefts of physical activity as part of community promotion efforts. Messages can also provide information about facilities or outlets where individuals can be active'.
  • 'Member States should consider expanding family policies to provide information to future parents and young families about the importance of physical activity during pregnancy and for small children. Appropriately trained health professionals should provide information and advice to future parents about the benefits of being physically active and of maintaining a healthy body weight prior to pregnancy, during pregnancy, including during antenatal classes; risk assessment and screening approaches can be used to identify pregnant women requiring more support for behaviour change'.
  • 'Provide public education and awareness campaigns to promote walking and walkability and link these campaigns with other activities meant to increase walking'.
  • 'Tailor campaign messages and activities to resonate with specific audiences'.
  • 'Use relevant communication channels (mainstream and social media and emerging technologies, such as walking apps and video games) to market walking and walkability'.


  • 'Public health professionals, health care professionals, employers, community planners, school districts, teachers, and academic institutions can support the training of professionals by doing the following:
  • Include information on physical activity and behavioral counselling in the training, continuing education, and accreditation process for all health care professionals.
  • Provide training to administrators and classroom teachers on ways to incorporate walking throughout the school day.
  • Integrate walking and walkability as part of the higher education curricula across majors to promote interdisciplinary training.
  • Offer continuing education opportunities that promote walking and walkability for relevant professionals'.
  • 'Academic institutes and civil and professional societies should develop and support annual training for urban planners and civil engineers on the latest approaches to improved road transport systems to support provision of safe well-connected walking and cycling networks, infrastructure and end of trip facilities.'
  • Health-care providers can model healthy behaviours by being physically active themselves.



  • Encourage the 'evaluation of activities to increase PA, to contribute to an evidence base of effective and cost–effective actions'.
  • 'Public health departments can monitor community progress in providing places and opportunities to be physically active and can track changes in the proportion of the population meeting the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans'
  • Stakeholders involved should work together to:
  • 'Establish standard and valid measures of walking and expand their use in health, transportation, and other relevant surveillance systems at national, state, and local levels'.
  • 'Develop feasible surveillance tools and methods to measure supports for walking in various settings, such as the community, worksites, and schools'.
  • 'Collect data on pedestrian exposure and pedestrian injury through relevant national, state, and local surveillance systems'.
  • 'Add measures of walkability to national, state, and local surveillance systems'.
  • 'Make user-friendly data easily available to decision makers'.

a Based on the Nuffield intervention ladder as described in Public Health: ethical issues from the Nuffield Council on Bioethics Nov 2007