Active Living

New Residential

What is Active Living?

Active living incorporates physical activity on a daily basis to promote physical and mental well-being.[1] Many adults do not meet the Surgeon General’s recommendations for regular physical activity, mainly because driving replaces walking and biking as the primary mode of transportation.[2] Some of this change is due to individual decisions. Another explanation is the built environment; many communities lack sidewalks and bike lanes and other amenities that would otherwise promote active living.[3] The settings where people spend their time – work, home, and school, for example – influence daily behaviors.[4]

Figure 1 – Children walking to school (Source: Voorhees Transportation Center)

Figure 1 – Children walking to school (Source: Voorhees Transportation Center)

Active living incorporates physical activity into daily routines, such as:[5]

  • Playing in the park
  • Taking the stairs
  • Using recreation facilities
  • Walking or bicycling for exercise, pleasure, or transportation
  • Working in the yard

Active design contributes to public health initiatives and also has positive environmental effects. Strategies that increase the physical activity – such as promoting walking over driving, stairs over elevator usage and recreation over stationary activities such as video games – all also tend to lower energy consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.[6] Active living design provides access by people of all ages and varying mobility.

How to Implement Active Living

A first step to implementing active living into everyday life includes selecting a location or residential developments that include:[7]

  • Mixed land use neighborhoods.
  • Pedestrian-friendly designs with traffic calming features, landscaping, lighting, benches, and water fountains.
  • Continuous bike networks and bicycle infrastructure such as indoor and outdoor bike parking accommodations.
  • A pleasant, safe and secure outdoor environment for pedestrians and cyclists with pedestrian-scale lighting, entrances that are easy to see and access from cross streets, ADA accessible sidewalks and ramps, and ground floor windows that provide “eyes on the street.”
  • Easy access to open spaces, parks, plazas, public buildings, recreational facilities, schools, and trails.
  • Public spaces designed to accommodate a wide range of public uses.
  • Access to public transit and multi-modal transit hubs.
  • Access to healthy food such as local grocery stores and farmer’s markets.
  • Smaller parking lots located in areas away from primary pedestrian traffic.

There are also steps that can be taken to incorporate active living into home design:[8]

  • Designing inviting and easy to access outdoor spaces that encourage time spent in nature.
  • Incorporating space for exercising and for storage of active lifestyle equipment and gear (e.g., wall mounted bicycle storage, mudroom lockers).
  • Providing a front porch to promote neighborhood interaction.
  • Incorporating easy to maintain gardens on rooftops, courtyards or patio spaces that promote homegrown herbs, fruits, and vegetables.


Get Healthy Camden

Get Healthy Camden is working to building a culture of health in the City of Camden. The organization implements programs related to healthy eating, healthy living, and active living. These programs grew from the blueprint developed by Get Healthy Camden, that address community health through a “comprehensive citywide wellness policy that consists of policies and systems that create walking and biking paths, parks and open space, healthy and affordable food outlets, and that makes Camden an environment that supports daily physical activity and nutrition.”[9]


Active living can provide both short and long-term benefits to people of all ages and abilities. Short-term benefits include[10]

  • increased ease performing daily activities such as climbing stairs
  • increased energy and the ability to cope with stress
  • improved sleep
  • decreased risk of depression
  • improvements in student performance, including grades and standardized test scores[11]

Potential long-term benefits include reduced risk for specific health problems such as:[12]

  • back pain
  • high blood pressure
  • obesity and obesity-related diseases
  • anxiety and depression
  • cancer[13]

Active living can also reduce reliance on automobiles and promote increased positive/personal interaction in the community.


The cost to implement active living strategies depends on a variety of factors. As with any community design process, some costs include collecting data from the neighborhood as well as the implementation costs of various programs such as walking clubs or bicycle recycle initiatives.[14] These costs are dependent on the existing design of a community as well as the population within it and their willingness to volunteer their time and resources to active living.

An integrated design process and considering active living design strategies from the start can minimize costs regardless of project scale. A study released in 2018 identified the total cost of chronic diseases related to individuals identified as obese or overweight was $1.72 trillion or 9.3% of the United States gross domestic product (GDP).[15] Active living can have long-term positive impacts on public health that reduce costs on a community scale.


Health is a critical factor in community resilience, defined as the sustained ability of communities to withstand, adapt to, and recover from adversity.[16] Active living helps promote a healthier community of people who are better able to endure and recover from a disaster or emergency event. Accessible public spaces help develop community connections that are essential sources of support during emergencies.


[1] Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Active Living Resource Center.” (accessed September 18, 2018).

[2] Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Active Living Resource Center.” (accessed September 18, 2018).

[3] Ibid.

[4] CDC. Adult Obesity – Causes & Consequences. (accessed January 6, 2019).

[5] Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Active Living Resource Center.” (accessed September 18, 2018).

[6] New York City Department of Design and Construction. “Active Design Guidelines.” (accessed September 20, 2018).

[7] New York City Department of Design and Construction. “Active Design Guidelines.” (accessed September 20, 2018).

[8] Ibid.

[9] New Jersey Health Initiatives. 2016. Get Healthy Camden – A Partnership for Healthy Kids Program (accessed January 7, 2019).

[10] US Dept. of Health and Human Services. Importance of Physical Activity (accessed January 6. 2019).

[11] Leadership for Healthy Communities. (accessed January 5, 2019).

[12] Warburton, D.E., Whitney Nicol, C., Bredin, S.S. Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence Can. Med. Assoc. J., Mar 2006; 174: 801 – 809

[13]  US Dept. of Health and Human Services. Active Living. (accessed January 5, 2019)

[14] Active Living By Design. “5P Strategies and Tactics.” (accessed March 18, 2011).

[15] Waters, Hugh, and Marlon Graf. America’s Obesity Crisis: The Health and Economic Costs of Excess Weight. (accessed January 6, 2019).

[16] Public Health Emergency. Build and Sustain Healthy, Resilient Communities. (accessed January 6, 2019).