A range of successful and effective interventions from around the world were recognized in the third paper in The Lancet Series that can be used to encourage people to be physically active and improve their exercise opportunities.

Gregory Heath, lead author of the study and from the University of Tennessee, said:

“Because even moderate physical activity such as walking and cycling can have substantial health benefits, understanding strategies that can increase these behaviors in different regions and cultures has become a public health priority.”

The researchers evaluated 100 reviews published between 2001 and 2011 of clinical and community-based physical interventions. They then discovered a number of effective ways for promoting exercise in people of different age groups, social groups, and countries worldwide through:

  • Behavioral and social initiatives
  • Modifications to environmental design and transport policies
  • Communication and information strategies

Successful examples of encouraging people to be physically active include promoting exercise and community events through mass media campaigns and decision prompts to help inspire people, like using the stairs instead of an elevator.

Walking clubs and buddy systems are also valuable social support networks. Free exercise classes in public areas, like parks, are very important because they target populations who are less likely to manage the suggested amount of exercise, including older adults, women, and those on lower incomes.

According to Heath and his colleagues, creating environments suitable for walking and biking, like bike lanes, can be very beneficial. If people improve their access to sports and other outdoor activities, help shape policies for neighborhood design, increase the amount of green in their yard, and/or improve public transportation, they will see an improvement in their physical activity levels.

Research has shown that USA, Australia, England, Canada, Belgium, and Germany can increase their activity levels by 50% from street-level strategies (improving lighting and aesthetics).

Ciclovía is another potentially beneficial intervention that started in Bogotá, Columbia and has spread to almost half of the countries in the Americas (100 cities). Ciclovía is a program that allows runners, walkers, cyclists, and skaters on every Sunday morning and each public holiday to exercise freely in the street by closing it off to motorized vehicles. About one million people use this program every week, mostly people on lower incomes. It covers about 14% of the recommended population requirement of weekly activity for Bogotá.

Heath explained:

“Overall, our findings showed the interventions to have consistent and significant effects on physical activity behaviors. Even though in some instances the effect sizes of these interventions were rather modest, they were large enough to translate into real population-level benefits if rolled out on a larger scale.”

Written by Sarah Glynn