How the Community Helps Your Family Live Healthier

Instead of all going it alone, how about a community take on healthier families?

What do you need to help your family live healthier? Maybe it's safer streets, more parks, or better sports equipment at your kids' school. Or maybe you'd get more physical activity if your church or temple offered fitness classes, or your health insurer gave you a financial incentive to work out.

Wouldn't it be great if your community could support you and your family as you live a more active life?

Better yet, what if your community had a whole list of ways to help? Turns out that list does exist. It's called the National Physical Activity Plan, and it has a lofty goal: "One day, all Americans will be physically active, and they will live, work and play in environments that encourage and support regular physical activity.”

Your life is undoubtedly affected by some or even all of these nine community sectors covered by the plan. Across the nine areas, the plan offers some 265 suggestions for boosting physical activity—not just dedicated workouts, but as an everyday habit. Here's a sampling of them.

Your Parks and Recreational Offerings

Healthier family - Mother and son playing in park
Blend Images - KidStock / Getty Images

When families have high-quality parks, trails, and other fitness facilities that are close to home and provide a variety of activities, those families tend to be more physically active. Seven out of 10 American adults used a local park in 2015, but there's always room for improvement. That could mean:

  • Fixing up existing recreational facilities, and building new ones, especially in areas where people are missing out on these options
  • Working out agreements for sharing facilities (say, letting community members use school gyms)
  • Finding new ways to pay for parks and their programs

Your Workplace

Ideally, employers and professional societies would go well beyond permitting physical activity. They would enable, encourage, and reward it. Some of the 26 ideas the physical activity plan has for employers: 

  • Design safe and walkable worksites
  • Give employees access to a gym or other fitness facility (and make sure they know about it!)
  • Look for ways to reduce sedentary time, and don't forget to include businesses of all sizes, as well as lower income workers and workers of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds

Your Kids' School

There are 80 million students in the U.S. (from preschool through college), so efforts here could have a huge impact. This is just a sample of the 42 ways school systems, trade schools, colleges and universities could boost physical activity levels:

Your Faith Community

As the plan notes, churches, temples and other faith-based organizations are often like workplaces and schools. They have social systems, buildings and grounds, and avenues of communication that can all help promote physical activity. They can take steps such as:

  • Establishing health ministries that include physical activity
  • Adding physical activity to existing groups, like prayer circles
  • Creating physical activity opportunities for employees

Your Health Care Provider

You'd think the health care industry would be all about helping families live healthier. But patients say they get advice about physical activity at less than a third of their doctor visits. Among the plan's suggestions for health care settings:

  • Assess physical activity like a vital sign and include it in health records
  • Figure out how to use data from fitness wearables and apps
  • Make treating inactivity a priority
  • Use health care benefits to reimburse costs for fitness programs
  • Teach medical students about physical activity (and test them on it!)

Your Media Outlets

All these other communities need help getting the word out, which is where the media comes in! Experts working to promote physical activity should make sure to spread their message by:

  • Teaching media pros about the importance of physical activity
  • Showing physical activity as a healthy behavior similar to quitting smoking, eating healthy food, and so on

Your Local Government

The plan offers a huge number of ideas (55 in all) for local, state, and national public health officials. After all, preventive health is a huge part of their job, and physical activity is in turn a huge part of preventive health. Most of the public health suggestions in the national plan center around education, research, public policy, and funding. While a lot happens behind the scenes, you—the public—are the ones who will see the results.

Your Favorite Sport

Of course, sports are all about physical activity. But not everyone can play, or wants to. What if we could help both kids and adults overcome some of the obstacles that keep them from playing sports, through efforts such as:

  • A new, national organization to provide leadership and resources on sports
  • More opportunities for free and "loosely supervised" play
  • Affordable, community-based sports leagues for all ages (not just little ones playing T-ball!)
  • Including organized sports in before- and after-school care
  • Schedules and fees that encourage multi-sport play, so kids don't specialize in one sport too early

Your City or Town

This section of the plan covers transportation, land use, and community design—so all the ways your surroundings could help you have a healthier family.

Say you want to advocate for a new bike lane in your neighborhood. Here's where you have the National Physical Activity Plan on your side. It recommends everything from parking policies to community bike-shares to zoning laws, all designed to promote active transportation and living.

It's a Plan, Not a Law

If this all sounds like a lot of Big Government, it's not. These are just ideas that communities can consider using, depending on their goals and needs. What's smart about them is that they're research-backed and field-tested, so community members can get a jump start on putting them into practice. With over 250 suggestions, there is something for every community and every family.