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This website showcases features of the built environment that can make it easier for Australians to be more active and improve their heart health. It’s a cause the Heart Foundation has been passionate about since its inception almost 60 years ago. 

The Heart Foundation has, since 1959, been fighting the single biggest killer of Australians – heart disease. Almost 1.5 million of us live with heart disease and each year more than 55,000 Australians suffer a heart attack.  

One of the key ways of improving heart health is to increase physical activity levels - and we know that improving the design of our cities, towns, streets and buildings makes it easier for Australians to lead heart-healthy lives.  

Alongside its internationally recognised research, the Heart Foundation also advocates for environmental and behavioural changes to provide all Australians with opportunities to be healthy and active throughout their lives in the places they live, study, work and play.  

This website is part of that advocacy.  

The Heart Foundation is working towards the creation of healthier built environments and for decades we have supported planners, developers, local governments and communities working towards creating streets, towns and cities that allow, support and encourage active, healthy lives.  

Healthy Active by Design provides the best-available evidence, practical advice, checklists and case studies to help with the development of healthy neighbourhoods and communities that promote walking, cycling and an active public life.  

We want it to be used to inform best practice and advocate for the improvement of Australia’s places and spaces. It showcases the little and large changes that can lead to population-wide improvement in physical activity levels and heart health. 

Why the built environment affects heart health

In the developed world, 80 per cent of people live in urban settings and 90 per cent of our time is spent indoors. The built environment has now become our natural environment and this has a profound influence on our health, tied as it is to lower levels of physical activity.  

Most Australians do not get the amount of physical activity they need, and this can shorten life expectancy and increase the risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases.   

The statistics on the cost and burden of this inactivity are stark: in 2014/15, two in every three Australians over the age of 15 did little or no exercise; insufficient physical activity is on the rise and is one of the leading risk factors for global mortality and, finally, people who are insufficiently active have a 35% increased risk of death from heart disease compared to the sufficiently active.  

In less than 100 years, we have gone from a population likely to walk to work or school to one likely to drive or be driven. Our work has changed from physical, manual or active to largely seated and sedentary. Our leisure has moved from the great outdoors to the not-so-great indoors and the amount of time we spend at work, or in traffic, impacts the time we have available to be active or prepare healthy meals. 

What is in the website and who is it for?

Healthy Active by Design is a practical guide to incorporating health and physical activity into the design of our built environment.  

This useful tool offers the best-available evidence, advice and examples to assist with the development of healthy and active neighbourhoods.  

We know it’s easier to be active if your local area: 

  • is close to shops, schools and services so you can walk or cycle, instead of driving.  
  • if there is supportive infrastructure such as footpaths, safe road crossings and cycle paths.  
  • offers quality spaces that improve wellbeing – and are worth visiting – such as green areas, plazas, open space and recreational facilities.  

So, Healthy Active by Design has sections on public open space, buildings, community facilities, movement networks, healthy food, sense of place, housing diversity and destinations.  

Case studies include the bike-friendly Barossa Valley, Bendigo’s historic gardens being reinvigorated for active community life but also how and where to design an office building that maximises workers’ activity.  

Closer to home, the website reveals how physical activity levels are linked to the shape of your street and why it matters how far away your nearest park or fresh-food outlets are.  

This is a website for those designing new communities, those seeking best-practice for changes within their neighbourhood and those just keen to understand, as the Heart Foundation is, the powerful connection between opportunities to be active and improved heart health.  

Read it, use it and advocate with it.  

Discover our Design Features.