What are our points of reference in the UK when we try to enhance the environment to improve health?

Written by Dr Nicola Eccles

The Center for Active Design is a highlight for all those interested in the interplay between environment and health behaviour. Showcasing examples of what can be done with spaces and buildings to initiate healthier decisions by the public, this organisation and the highly informative website is an invaluable resource for CP Active.

The UK appears to lag behind North America in relation to a focus on the environment and health. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), heralded as the gold standard in issues relating to healthcare and treatment, provide the UK with our first evidence-based guidelines on how we can improve our physical environment to promote physical activity

What suggestions do NICE make for our communities across the UK? And more importantly when you think of the spaces that you move between and within in your daily life….are they reflected in these guidelines?

1) Strategies, policies and plans

  • Ensure planning applications for new developments always prioritise the need for people (including those whose mobility is impaired) to be physically active as a routine part of their daily life.

2) Transport

  • Ensure pedestrians, cyclists and users of other modes of transport that involve physical activity are given the highest priority when developing or maintaining streets and roads.

3) Transport

  • Plan and provide a comprehensive network of routes for walking, cycling and using other modes of transport involving physical activity.
  • These routes should offer everyone (including people whose mobility is impaired) convenient, safe and attractive access to workplaces, homes, schools and other public facilities. (The latter includes shops, play and green areas and social destinations.) They should be built and maintained to a high standard.

4) Public Open Spaces

  • Ensure public open spaces and public paths can be reached on foot, by bicycle and using other modes of transport involving physical activity.
  • Ensure public open spaces and public paths are maintained to a high standard. They should be safe, attractive and welcoming to everyone.

5) Buildings

  • Those involved with campus sites, including hospitals and universities, should ensure different parts of the site are linked by appropriate walking and cycling routes. (Campuses comprise two or more related buildings set together in the grounds of a defined site.)
  • Ensure new workplaces are linked to walking and cycling networks. Where possible, these links should improve the existing walking and cycling infrastructure by creating new, through routes (and not just links to the new facility).

6) Buildings

  • During building design or refurbishment, ensure staircases are designed and positioned to encourage people to use them.
  • Ensure staircases are clearly signposted and are attractive to use. For example, they should be well-lit and well-decorated.

7) Schools

  • Ensure school playgrounds are designed to encourage varied, physically active play.
  • Primary schools should create areas (for instance, by using different colours) to promote individual and group physical activities such as hopscotch and other games.

Here at CP Active we are slowly trying to turn the tide of inactivity through altering the environments in which we live. Working with councils and community organisations we are starting with the creation of subliminal active prompts whilst looking at the potential for greater impact through transforming buildings and spaces.

How long will it be before the guidelines above are mirrored across the UK?

And crucially, if you build it will they come?


Environment, Exercise, Leadership, Lifestyle, Physical Activity