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Modern-day life can make us inactive, and about a third of adults in England don’t do the recommended amount of weekly exercise, but the design of where we live and work can play a vital role in keeping us active.

We know sport isn’t for everyone, but embracing a lifestyle change to be more active can have real benefits including:  

  • Improving physical health
  • Increasing mental wellbeing 
  • Building stronger communities. 

As part of our drive to create an active environment, Active Design wraps together the planning and considerations that should be made when designing the places and spaces we live in. It’s about designing and adapting where we live to encourage activity in our everyday lives, making the active choice the easy choice.

Watch our film below and see how you can encourage people to choose the active option by building an infrastructure that creates opportunities for all types of physical activity.

Encouraging activity in everyday lives

Active Design is a combination of 10 principles that promote activity, health and stronger communities through the way we design and build our towns and cities.

That's why we, in partnership with Public Health England, have produced the Active Design Guidance which works as a step-by-step guide to implementing an active environment.

This guidance builds on the original objectives of improving accessibility, enhancing amenity and increasing awareness, and sets out the 10 principles of Active Design.

The 10 principles of Active Design

The 10 principles have been developed to inspire and inform the layout of cities, towns, villages, neighbourhoods, buildings, streets and open spaces, to promote sport and active lifestyles. Below is a brief overview of these 10 principles:

1. Activity for all neighbourhoods

Enabling those who want to be active, whilst encouraging those who are inactive to become active.

2. Walkable communities

Creating the conditions for active travel between all locations.

3. Connected walking and cycling routes

Prioritising active travel through safe, integrated walking and cycling routes.

4. Co-location of community facilities

Creating multiple reasons to visit a destination, minimising the number and length of trips and increasing the awareness and convenience of opportunities to participate in sport and physical activity.

5. Network of multifunctional open space

Providing multifunctional spaces opens up opportunities for sport and physical activity and has numerous wider benefits.

6. High quality streets and spaces

Well designed streets and spaces support and sustain a broader variety of users and community activities.

7. Appropriate infrastructure

Providing and facilitating access to facilities and other infrastructure to enable all members of society to take part in sport and physical activity.

8. Active buildings

Providing opportunities for activity inside and around buildings.

9. Management, maintenance, monitoring & evaluation

A high standard of management, maintenance, monitoring and evaluation is essential to ensure the long-term desired functionality of all spaces.

10. Activity promotion & local champions

Physical measures need to be matched by community and stakeholder ambition, leadership and engagement.

Our checklist is a useful way of applying the Active Design principles to a specific proposal or measuring and assessing the ability to deliver more active and healthier outcomes.

Mother walking her baby in buggy in park

Case studies

Principles into practice

To bridge the gap between the high-level principles of Active Design and delivery in practice, we have worked with the Building Research Establishment (BRE) to link the overarching Active Design Principles with the individual scheme criterion in each of the BRE Environmental Assessment Methodology (BREEAM) family of schemes, including HQM, Communities and CEEQUAL.

This document has been produced to help illustrate how active design can be implemented in developments in a practical way through the application of the BREEAM family of schemes.

This mapping between the BREEAM schemes and our Active Design Principles makes it easier for developers, planners and other stakeholders in the sector to understand and deliver the principles in practice – thereby creating healthy, vibrant and active neighbourhoods and communities for the future.

The work can be used to build on the guidance to provide specific and consistent technical standards that demonstrate the benefits of Active Design and sustainability more broadly.

Designing for physical activity

Creating more opportunities to be physically active means thinking about many prompts and cues that enable positive changes in our behaviour.

An active environment is one which responds to community needs and aspirations and provides the conditions and opportunities for people to be more active in their everyday lives.

Active environments require a more coordinated and holistic approach to the design and operation of our surroundings from streets, neighbourhoods and public open spaces to the policies, standards and planning of the infrastructure of where we live and work.

So we’ve created a suite of guidance documents to help incorporate physical activity into your design. These show a range of things that can encourage people to engage in physical activities - from simple low-cost alterations and adaptions to the local landscape, to the re-use of facilities that are underused, and even new build projects.

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