How Does the Built Environment Affect Physical Activity Levels Among Adolescents?

January 30, 2024

The built environment has a significant influence on the physical activities of adolescents. It includes structures and facilities such as parks, playgrounds, school buildings, and transportation facilities. These elements are crucial in contributing to physical activity levels among adolescents. The aim of this article is to explore the impact of the built environment on adolescent physical activity, with a specific focus on urban areas.

The Role of the Built Environment in Physical Activity

The built environment refers to all man-made structures and facilities. It has a profound effect on the physical activity of individuals, particularly adolescents. This is because it encompasses spaces where they can engage in physical activity. It includes both indoor and outdoor spaces, transportation routes and recreational facilities.

Studies on Google Scholar and PubMed have shown a direct correlation between the built environment and physical activity levels of adolescents. For instance, the built environment’s design can either promote or deter physical movement, depending on its availability and accessibility.

When the built environment is conducive and appealing, teenagers are more likely to engage in active transportation such as walking, cycling, or using public transport. This, in turn, contributes to their overall physical activity and health. Conversely, an environment that lacks the necessary facilities or is perceived as unsafe may deter adolescents from being physically active.

The Impact of School Built Environment on Adolescent Physical Activity

Schools form an essential part of the built environment for adolescents. The school built environment can promote or hinder physical activity among students, affecting their health and wellness.

Schools with facilities that support physical activity, such as well-equipped gyms, sports fields, and adequate open spaces, encourage students to be more active. In contrast, schools lacking these facilities may provide limited opportunities for students to engage in physical exercises.

Moreover, the school built environment also includes the school’s surroundings. For instance, if the school is located in an area with heavy traffic or perceived as unsafe, students may be less likely to walk or cycle to school, limiting their physical activity.

Urban Built Environment and Adolescent Physical Activity

In urban settings, the built environment plays a significant role in determining adolescent physical activity levels. Urban environments often provide more opportunities for physical activity due to the greater availability of facilities and active transportation options.

However, urban environments also pose challenges. High traffic volumes, lack of green spaces, and safety issues can deter adolescents from engaging in outdoor physical activities such as walking or cycling.

Studies have shown that urban adolescents are more likely to be physically active when they have easy access to recreational facilities, parks, or sports fields. This suggests the importance of planning and designing urban environments that encourage an active lifestyle for adolescents.

Active Transportation and Physical Activity

Active transportation refers to any form of human-powered transportation, such as walking or cycling. It has been identified in numerous studies as a crucial factor in promoting physical activity among adolescents.

In urban areas, the built environment can either facilitate or hinder active transportation. For instance, the presence of safe walking and cycling paths, traffic calming measures, and secure bicycle storage can encourage adolescents to walk or cycle to school or other destinations, thereby increasing their physical activity.

However, barriers such as high traffic volumes, perceived safety risks, or long distances can discourage active transportation and reduce the level of physical activity among adolescents.

The Role of MVPA in Adolescent Physical Activity

Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activity (MVPA) is considered essential for adolescent health. MVPA includes activities that increase heart rate and breathing, such as playing sports, running, or cycling.

The built environment can greatly affect adolescents’ MVPA. Studies have shown that adolescents are more likely to engage in MVPA when they have access to suitable spaces and facilities for such activities, such as sports fields, parks or gyms.

Conversely, a lack of these facilities or spaces, or the perception of them as unsafe, can deter adolescents from engaging in MVPA, reducing their overall level of physical activity and potentially impacting their health.

In conclusion, the built environment can significantly affect adolescents’ physical activity levels. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that our built environments, including schools and urban areas, are designed to promote physical activity and active transportation. This will help to improve the health and wellbeing of our adolescents.

The Influence of Neighborhood Built Environment on Adolescent Physical Activity

Neighborhoods form a vital section of the built environment for teens. The design of neighborhoods, including the availability and accessibility of physical activity facilities, can notably impact adolescents’ physical activity levels.

Neighborhoods rich in parks, recreational centers, green spaces, and walking paths provide adolescents with ample opportunities to engage in physical activities such as playing, jogging, or cycling. A study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that adolescents residing in neighborhoods with higher densities of parks and recreational facilities had higher levels of physical activity than those living in areas with fewer amenities.

On the contrary, neighborhoods characterized by high traffic volumes, lack of sidewalks, limited green spaces, or perceived as unsafe can discourage adolescents from outdoor physical activities. This results in lower levels of physical activity, leading to potential health problems such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, or cardiovascular disease.

Moreover, the neighborhood built environment can influence the mode of transportation used by adolescents. For example, neighborhoods with well-constructed and connected sidewalks encourage walking or cycling as forms of commuting, enhancing their physical activity levels.

The Importance of Built Environment Design in Promoting Physical Activity Among Adolescents

The design of the built environment is a critical factor in promoting physical activity among adolescents. A well-designed built environment that prioritizes accessibility and safety can encourage adolescents to engage in regular physical activity.

Aspects of design can include the presence of safe and well-maintained walking paths, bicycle lanes, and the placement of recreational and sports facilities in easily accessible locations. Additionally, incorporating green spaces, parks, and play areas into urban planning can stimulate physical activities.

For instance, the implementation of traffic calming measures such as speed bumps, pedestrian zones, and crossings can enhance the safety of walking and cycling routes. This can, in turn, encourage active transportation and increase physical activity levels among adolescents.

Furthermore, the layout and organization of school facilities also play a crucial role. Schools with well-designed sports fields, playgrounds, and gymnasiums provide adolescents with ample opportunities for physical activity.


In conclusion, the built environment significantly influences adolescents’ physical activity levels. The design and features of schools, neighborhoods, and urban areas can either promote or discourage physical activity and active transportation among adolescents. Therefore, it is paramount that urban planners, policymakers, and educators prioritize the creation of environments that foster physical activity. This can be achieved through careful planning and design of our built environments, including easy access to sports and recreational facilities, safe and connected active transportation routes, and suitable spaces for MVPA. Through these efforts, we can contribute to the promotion of healthier lifestyles and improved well-being among our adolescents.