Active Design is a multifaceted design strategy that incorporates building design and city planning elements in order to encourage better overall health of the populace by encouraging natural, daily exercise, thereby reducing the risk of obesity and chronic disease. Input on the overall Active Design plan comes from people across many vocations, including health experts, real estate professionals, city planners, architects and engineers, and transportation experts. By encouraging daily exercise through design, Active Design lowers overall healthcare costs by reducing health problems related to obesity. Since health insurance is all about shared risk, even people who aren’t obese will benefit cost-wise from the reduction in obesity among the general population. With all of the national coverage of the obesity epidemic, any program meant to put a dent in the problem is worth the effort. Here is a description from an online engineering management program about how Active Design works, and why it is effective:
The Four Key Concepts of Active Design
- Active Transportation – Active Design promotes safe, effective, pleasant options for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders in order to encourage active transportation instead of driving. Methods used to achieve this include wide sidewalks, traffic regulations that promote pedestrian-conscious driving, public art, trees and other visual pleasantries, lighting for safe nighttime walking, and well-defined bike lanes for riders.
- Active Buildings – There are many small design elements that can help encourage more activity in a given building. Stairs should be easy-accessible, clean, well-lit, and have proper signage to make them more likely to be used. Walking areas should be visually appealing to encourage movement from place to place, buildings should be accessible by cyclists and offer bicycle storage, facilities should offer on-site exercise areas when possible, and buildings should be easily reachable by public transportation.
- Active Recreation – Parks and playground should be accessible for pedestrians and bicyclists, and accommodate people of all age ranges. They should also offer activities that fulfill a wide variety of interests, and in safe environments. By placing elements like water fountains and shaded seating, people at the recreation area will be encouraged to stay active for a longer period of time than they would otherwise.
- Food Access – Design elements should allow space for full-service grocery stores, food stands, or farmer’s markets that offer fresh fruits and vegetables. Municipalities should also provide signage to direct people to those places. Gardening should be encouraged, even in city areas, by providing space for gardens at schools, on rooftops, or in any other manner of creative place. Areas heavy with pedestrian traffic should have water fountains, with faucets available for pedestrians to refill water bottles.
How Active Design Lowers Healthcare Costs
- Less Car-Dependent Neighborhoods – With the massive population growth and general movement of that population toward cities and suburbs, municipalities have to be designed increasingly with car travel in mind. For most people, driving somewhere in a car is more convenient than walking, biking, or public transportation, and design plays a part in this. By developing design plans to make exercise-centric commuting both easier and more convenient, designers can increase pedestrian foot-traffic, making for a healthier populace.
- Designed Open Spaces – With the increasing land-use of homes and business, public recreation areas have been squeezed out over the years. Put simply, if you want to encourage exercise and better health, you need to give people a place to exercise. By earmarking more land for parks and recreation areas, Active Design provides people with an opportunity to get healthy that they may not have had before.
- Products of Their Environment – People are largely creatures of habit, and will adapt to their surroundings. If walking to work and other activities is inconvenient, people will drive. If there are escalators everywhere, people won’t walk up the stairs. If there is no fresh, healthy, reasonably priced food available, people will resort to cheap, unhealthy fast food. So it goes no matter the issue at hand.
The bottom line is that a more active populace means a healthier populace. The healthcare savings from decreased obesity and lower risks for chronic disease will trickle down to all policy-holders, along with saving money on government programs. That makes Active Design a healthy endeavor for both the waistline and the wallet.