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Physical Activity


Improve health, fitness, and quality of life through daily physical activity.


Structural environments, such as the availability of sidewalks, bike lanes, trails, and parks

Legislative policies that improve access to facilities that support physical activity

New to Healthy People 2020 are objectives related to policies targeting younger children through:

Physical activity in childcare settings

Television viewing and computer usage

Recess and physical education in the Nation’s public and private elementary schools

Why Is Physical Activity Important?

Regular physical activity can improve the health and quality of life of Americans of all ages, regardless of the presence of a chronic disease or disability.1, 2 Among adults and older adults, physical activity can lower the risk of:

Early death

Coronary heart disease


High blood pressure

Type 2 diabetes

Breast and colon cancer



Among children and adolescents, physical activity can:

Improve bone health.

Improve cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness.

Decrease levels of body fat.

Reduce symptoms of depression.

For people who are inactive, even small increases in physical activity are associated with health benefits.

Understanding Physical Activity

Personal, social, economic, and environmental factors all play a role in physical activity levels among youth, adults, and older adults. Understanding the barriers to and facilitators of physical activity is important to ensure the effectiveness of interventions and other actions to improve levels of physical activity.

Factors positively associated with adult physical activity include:

Postsecondary education

Higher income

Enjoyment of exercise

Expectation of benefits

Belief in ability to exercise (self-efficacy)

History of activity in adulthood

Social support from peers, family, or spouse

Access to and satisfaction with facilities

Enjoyable scenery

Safe neighborhoods

Factors negatively associated with adult physical activity include:

Advancing age

Low income

Lack of time

Low motivation

Rural residency

Perception of great effort needed for exercise

Overweight or obesity

Perception of poor health

Being disabled

Older adults may have additional factors that keep them from being physically active, including lack of social support, lack of transportation to facilities, fear of injury, and cost of programs.

Among children ages 4 to 12, the following factors have a positive association with physical activity:

Gender (boys)

Belief in ability to be active (self-efficacy)

Parental support

Among adolescents ages 13 to 18, the following factors have a positive association with physical activity:

Parental education

Gender (boys)

Personal goals

Physical education/school sports

Belief in ability to be active (self-efficacy)

Support of friends and family

Environmental influences positively associated with physical activity among children and adolescents include:

Presence of sidewalks

Having a destination/walking to a particular place

Access to public transportation

Low traffic density

Access to neighborhood or school play area and/or recreational equipment

People with disabilities may be less likely to participate in physical activity due to physical, emotional, and psychological barriers. Barriers may include the inaccessibility of facilities and the lack of staff trained in working with people with disabilities.

Emerging Issues in Physical Activity

Healthy People 2020 reflects a multidisciplinary approach to promoting physical activity. This approach brings about traditional partnerships, such as that of education and health care, with nontraditional partnerships representing, for example, transportation, urban planning, recreation, and environmental health. (For more information, see Web Site Policy.) Several new objectives reflect this emphasis—for example, physical activity policies regarding childcare (Objective 2020-9) and environmental settings (Objective 2020-15).

Data sources that are representative of the entire Nation are needed to monitor key characteristics of the environment, such as the availability of parks and trails, the usage of these spaces, and policies that promote physical activity at worksites, in communities, and in schools.

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