Promoting Physical Activity in Non-Urban Settings


Promotion of Physical Activity in Non-Urban  Settings

Exploration of the literature on physical activity and the built, physical, and natural environment in non-urban settings.

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It is widely recognized that individuals’ physical activity (PA) behaviors are influenced by multiple levels of determinants (1-3), including the wider physical (or built) and natural environments in which individuals live, work, and play. Policies and environmental interventions can be used to create supportive environments that promote health by making it easier for individuals to integrate PA into their day (1). This synthesis examines the literature on PA and features of the built, physical, and natural environment in rural, remote, northern, and natural settings.

Key Findings:

  • Findings from this synthesis indicate that while further research is required, rural settings experience specific environmental barriers and facilitators to PA, and differences in the relationship between PA and the built environment appear to exist across rural and urban settings (4,5).
  • The synthesis identified interventions with an environmental component aimed at promoting PA in Aboriginal remote, northern, and/or reserve communities, as well as broadly explored emerging ideas regarding the promotion of PA in natural settings.
  • Limited evidence was found overall, particularly within a Canadian context and for remote, northern, and natural settings.
  • Continued efforts are needed to synthesize and translate available evidence to inform the work of Canadian practitioners and policy-makers. In addition, further primary research using robust methods is required to address current research gaps and limitations.

To learn more about policies relevant to physical activity, we recommend visiting the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer (CPAC)’s Prevention Policies Directory.

The Directory is a freely-accessible online database of policies relating to cancer and chronic disease prevention, many of which address obesity prevention. It allows users to search by risk factor, jurisdiction, geographical location, and document type and provides summaries and direct access to policy documents.

Click here to find policies related to physical activity and built environment in the Prevention Policies Directory.



  1. Sallis JF, Floyd MF, Rodriguez DA, Saelens BE. Role of built environments in physical activity, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. Circulation. [Review]. 2012 Feb 7;125(5):729-37.
  2. McCrorie PR, Fenton C, Ellaway A. Combining GPS, GIS, and accelerometry to explore the physical activity and environment relationship in children and young people – a review. Int. [Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov’t]. 2014;11:9
  3. Spence JC, Lee RE. Toward a comprehensive model of physical activity. Psychology of sport and exercise. 2003;4(1):7-24.
  4. Frost SS, Goins RT, Hunter RH, Hooker SP, Bryant LL, Kruger J, et al. Effects of the built environment on physical activity of adults living in rural settings. Am J Health Promot. 2010 Mar-Apr;24(4):267-83.
  5. Boehm J, Franklin RC, Newitt R, McFarlane K, Grant T, Kurkowski B. Barriers and motivators to exercise for older adults: a focus on those living in rural and remote areas of Australia. Aust J Rural Health. [Review]. 2013 Jun;21(3):141-9.