Views from the Front Porch: Rural Physical Activity

by Christiaan Abildso, PhD

In this series of web-based video interviews and accompanying podcasts, Dr. Christiaan Abildso talks with emerging rural physical activity experts about the work that has resulted from eight recommended actions outlined in Rural Active Living: A Call to Action, published in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice. 

Views Porch Physical Activity

At the 2016 Active Living Research Conference in Clearwater, Florida, five colleagues and I from around the US hosted a round table entitled “Lessons from My Front porch: Social Determinants and Rural America.” From that discussion came a rural physical activity work group facilitated by the CDC-funded Physical Activity Policy Research Network Plus (PAPRN +) and an important paper, “Rural Active Living: A Call to Action,” published later that year in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice.

In this work, my co-authors and I described the uniqueness of the findings in rural research about the effect of specific behavior settings (ie, home, neighborhood, recreation settings, schools, workplaces, transportation settings) and environments (ie, sociocultural, informational, natural, policy) on physical activity highlighted in Jim Sallis and colleagues’ 2006 seminal ecological model of the four domains of physical activity. We concluded with eight suggestions.


  1. Systematically define, operationalize, and empirically test the concept of “rurality,”
  2. End the practice of treating rural settings as “less populated urban areas” because of the unique social, cultural, and environmental contexts of rural communities,
  3. Recognize, understand, and plan for the diversity that exists within the continuum of rurality when researching or practicing in rural areas,
  4. Utilize qualitative studies to better identify and characterize the unique influential variables in rural environments,
  5. Further develop, test, and validate rural-specific environmental assessment measures such as the RALA and RALPESS,
  6. Utilize objective measures of PA and sedentary behaviors in rural research (eg, accelerometers),
  7. Use ecological models such as Sallis and colleagues to guide the establishment of a rural-specific evidence base, and
  8. Partner with local groups to capitalize on natural experiments when they present themselves in rural settings (eg, policy implementation, trail construction) to assess the impact of such events before and after implementation.

Dr. Christiaan Abildso is an associate professor in the Department of Social and Behavior Sciences in the West Virginia University School of Public Health in Morgantown, WV, where he’s lived since 2004 with his wife and two children since. His research interests include health promotion program evaluation and social-ecological determinants of physical activity, including policy and the built environment. Dr. Abildso has multiple peer-reviewed publications about rail-trails, health impact assessment, physical activity planning, and evaluation of state-level health promotion programming. Christiaan is also active in local and state active transportation policy decisions, pedestrian and bicyclist safety, and national research on physical activity in rural areas. When not in the office, you’ll usually find him riding his bike (very safely) on the beautiful trails and country roads of West Virginia.

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