ISPAH 2018 Congress, standing ovations and the WHO’s action plan on physical activity

ISPAH 2018 Congress, standing ovations and the WHO’s action plan on physical activity

Monday, December 3, 2018
/ By:
Vienna McLeod

WELL Concepts
ISPAH 2018 Congress

This October, the International Society for Physical Activity and Health (ISPAH) convened for its 2018 Congress in London. Every two years, ISPAH brings together the world’s preeminent thought leaders on physical activity, movement, research, practice and policy. This year, I was thrilled to present on the WELL v2™ pilot and the Movement concept in an oral and poster presentation.

With a background in both exercise and movement science and public health epidemiology, I love speaking to the public health community. Now, more than ever, there’s a lot of excitement around buildings as key pillars of public health and it’s an honor to share how WELL and IWBI are contributing towards the growth of healthier environments. Though design and public health professionals have historically not always been seated at the same table, seeing urban planners, public health researchers and policymakers working together and blazing the trail for chronic disease prevention through environmental design has shown tremendous signs of promise towards a healthier world.

Another reason I love speaking to the public health community - and to the physical activity community in particular - is the standing ovations. While conferences offer a condensed and concentrated opportunity for learning, networking and career advancement, they can sometimes wreak havoc on your physical activity levels and routine. Introducing the standing ovation! Attendees stand to clap for presenters after each presentation. It’s not only energizing for speakers but is also a great way to break up periods of sitting. If you’re a moderator at an upcoming conference, give it a try! IWBI gave the standing ovation a try at our most recent all-staff strategic planning meeting and it was a hit.

WHO Action Plan

This year’s ISPAH Congress rallied around the recent release of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) action plan on physical activity 2018-2030, More active people for a healthier world. The action plan hinges on mounting evidence that physical inactivity continues to threaten global public health with rates of inactivity reaching as high as 70% in some countries as the result of shifting transportation norms, urbanization and changing culture and values.

The global action plan has two core targets:

  1. By 2025, reduce physical inactivity by 10%

  2. By 2030, reduce physical inactivity by 15%

The potential impact of reducing physical inactivity is substantial. Researchers estimate that over half a million deaths could be averted if physical inactivity were reduced by just 10% - the 2025 target.

Solving the public health challenges of today calls for modern approaches: bold leadership, cross-governmental and sectoral partnerships and systems thinking. With these in mind, the WHO action plan outlines four core objectives (with a total of 20 policy actions) that are universally applicable and aim to address the varying cultural, environmental and individual drivers of physical activity engagement around the world:

  1. Create active societies: shift social norms, attitudes and paradigms through enhanced knowledge of the benefits of physical activity.

  2. Create active environments: create spaces that support and safeguard opportunities for physical activity with a central focus on equity.

  3. Create active people: increase physical activity opportunities through diverse, age- and ability- appropriate programming.

  4. Create active systems: strengthen the systems needed to support the action plan focusing on governance, leadership, advocacy, information and financial systems, workforce capacity and partnerships.

Physical Activity and WELL

Through the WELL Building Standard™ (WELL™)  and WELL Community Standard™ pilot, IWBI is activating the spaces and communities in which we live, learn, work and play to be agents of public health. WELL sees buildings, communities and the people within them as key levers in creating long-lasting public health impact. Features across the WELL Building Standard and WELL Community Standard tackle the design and construction of our buildings and communities, from the ways in which they are operated and maintained to the very policies and programs that are in place for those that live within them.

The Movement concept is home to features that promote movement, physical activity and active living through environmental design, programming and supportive policies. There are many ways in which the Movement concept and other WELL concepts are directly supporting objectives of the WHO action plan, specifically the objectives to create active environments and create active people:

  • Create active environments: create spaces that support and safeguard opportunities for physical activity with a central focus on equity.

    • WELL draws from a strong evidence base, including best practices, to provide a standard that targets the fundamental design and construction of our buildings and communities including everything from pedestrian and cyclist friendly streets (V05: Site Planning and Selection) to active staircases (V03: Movement Network and Circulation) and physical activity amenities such as parks and playgrounds (V08: Physical Activity Spaces and Equipment).

  • Create active people: increase physical activity opportunities through diverse, age- and ability- appropriate programming.

    • WELL believes that forward thinking design should be complemented by bold policies. That is why features in the Movement concept call for comprehensive programs and policies that support physical activity for all ages and abilities (V06: Physical Activity Opportunities, V11: Physical Activity Promotion).

There are also many ways that WELL recognizes the importance of cultivating pro-health societies and systems:

  • Create active societies: shift social norms, attitudes and paradigms through enhanced knowledge of the benefits of physical activity.

    • Education is a core theme throughout the WELL Building Standard and WELL Community Standard, including education around physical activity and its benefits.

    • At a larger scale, we’re also excited to work with education providers who are best positioned to support projects in tailoring education to the unique needs of the populations they serve.

  • Create active systems: strengthen the systems needed to support the action plan focusing on governance, leadership, advocacy, information and financial systems, workforce capacity and partnerships.

    • At IWBI, we recognize that public health change doesn’t happen overnight nor without altering the fundamental systems that support health. We’re continuing to flex our systems-thinking muscles by advancing partnerships that support population health, offering various platforms to convene public health leaders and cultivating and training the future generation of wellness advocates including our growing community of WELL APs and WELL Faculty.


Physical activity is a multifaceted health issue. By tackling the individual, environmental and cultural drivers of physical activity we can impart widespread impacts on the health of individuals, communities, economies and the environment. In fact, actions tailored to the four core objectives of the WHO action plan contribute directly and indirectly to 13 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), further emphasizing the intricate relationship between physical activity and the health of both people and planet.

Vienna McLeod’s contributions to the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) draw upon her background in research methods, public health epidemiology and exercise and movement science. Vienna joined the Standard Development team in 2016 as the resident expert in physical activity.