Wellness Policy for Physical Activity

GWI’s wellness policy toolkit on physical activity identifies policy actions that can encourage and support people to engage in sufficient physical activity to stay healthy, both in their daily lives and during their leisure time. There are many challenges that contribute to high and rising levels of physical inactivity, and the toolkit examines specific ways in which new policies, government resources, and cross-sector partnerships can address those gaps and constraints.

Promoting physical activity is not just a function of governments. Anyone (policymaker or public servant, private business, nonprofit, or a concerned citizen) can become a champion for using public resources and policy actions to increase physical activity, among all population groups, and in all settings (such as schools, communities, workplaces, and public places and institutions). While some policy actions may require government leadership, funding, or mandates, the participation of the private and nonprofit sectors is also essential. Many actors and stakeholders must work in parallel and in partnership in order to increase levels of physical activity, expand access to wellness for all, and improve our health and well-being.

The responsibility for spearheading and implementing these policies rests with many different agencies, businesses, organizations, professions, and stakeholders who probably do not even see themselves as playing a role in facilitating physical activity and wellness. Whether you are a fitness entrepreneur, an educator, an urban planner, an architect, a physician, an employer, or a human resource director, there are many opportunities to advocate for policies that can encourage and increase physical activity in your community.

Six Areas of Policy Action for Physical Activity

GWI has identified six broad areas of policy action where stakeholders can promote physical activity participation and access. These actions are summarized below and are explored in detail in our 2023 report, Wellness Policy Toolkit: Physical Activity.

1. Encourage physical activity via the built environment.

Issue: Our modern built environment discourages physical activity.

Action: Design cities, neighborhoods, and buildings to facilitate natural movement and active transit.

1.1. Use urban/regional planning to encourage walking and cycling as transport.

1.2. Incorporate active design into real estate developments.

2. Make recreational physical activity accessible, convenient, and affordable.

Issue: Our modern lifestyles are increasingly sedentary, and we lack the time to exercise.

Action: Invest in recreational physical activity infrastructure, facilities, and programs.

2.1 Treat recreational physical activity as an essential public service.

2.2. Establish a “sports for all” policy framework or physical activity action plan.

2.3. Create more free and accessible public spaces for outdoor recreation and exercise.

2.4. Sponsor free exercise classes, programs, and educational campaigns.

2.5. Invest in subsidized and public-private fitness facilities.

3. Improve access to physical activity for underserved populations.

Issue: The private fitness industry often leaves out marginalized populations who are at higher risk for physical inactivity (e.g., women/girls, older adults, rural, lower-income populations).

Action: Target physical activity infrastructure investments to increase access and reduce cost barriers for high-risk populations and underserved communities

3.1. Develop safe and comfortable spaces for women and girls to exercise.

3.2. Support fitness options for older adults.

3.3. Make physical activity accessible to persons living with disabilities.

3.4. Address racial and ethnic disparities in physical activity.

4. Integrate physical activity into the health system.

Issue: The health system is disconnected from the physical activity sector, while people who have physical and chronic conditions (e.g., chronic disease, disabled, elderly) face many barriers to exercising.

Action: Incorporate physical activity into prevention and treatment protocols, working in cooperation with the health system

4.1. Implement exercise as medicine and exercise prescription initiatives.

4.2. Develop medical fitness centers.

5. Encourage youth to build lifelong habits for physical activity.

Issue: Youth are increasingly sedentary, are not engaging in sufficient physical activity, and are not building lifelong habits for exercise.

Action: Incorporate physical activity into prevention and treatment protocols, working in cooperation with the health system

5.1. Ensure that all children receive physical education (PE) classes regularly in school.

5.2. Encourage movement throughout the school day.

5.3. Put the “play” back into youth sports.

6. Encourage adults to be physically active during the workday.

Issue: The nature and demands of our jobs are a major driver of sedentary behaviors.

Action: Realign company benefits and culture to reduce sedentary behavior and increase opportunities for physical activity during the workday

6.1. Provide opportunities for physical activity during the workday.

6.2. Reduce sitting during the workday.

For more information:

  • To learn more about wellness policy, see GWI’s 2022-2024 Wellness Policy Series. This series is a compilation of nine reports, which aim to define wellness policy, articulate why it is needed, and provide a framework and set of strategies for implementing wellness policies across many domains of wellness.
  • GWI’s 2019 report Move to be Well: The Global Economy of Physical Activity takes a comprehensive look at the global market for physical activity, including participation rates, consumer spending, and emerging trends and models in regions around the world. This expansive market includes fitness and gyms, sports and active recreation, and mindful movement, as well as the supporting sectors of equipment, apparel, and technology.
  • GWI’s 2020 white paper Resetting the World With Wellness: Staying Active examines how the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the global physical activity crisis, why this decline is causing alarm among the global public health community, and how we can take action to support more people in staying active.
  • GWI’s physical activity data are updated and released every few years in the Global Wellness Economy Monitor. For the most recent data and research, see Wellness Economy Data Series.