Active Iowa

Active Iowa is a program by the University of Iowa Prevention Research Center for Rural Health (PRC-RH). It supports Iowan micropolitan communities to increase physical activity using strategies grounded in evidence. The PRC-RH recognizes the value of these communities in improving the health of our state of Iowa. Micropolitan communities are considered rural. But they are centers for information, jobs, trade, health, and social services. More information on micropolitan communities can be found here.

Physical activity is key to a healthy life. Diseases like stroke, heart disease, colon cancer, and diabetes are related to a lack of exercise and cause 300,000 deaths per year. Iowa ranks seventh in the nation for obesity. It also has high rates of diseases related to inactivity and poor nutrition. Some people, like racial/ethnic minorities and people with disabilities, experience more obstacles to being physically active.

Benefits to Physical Activity


Iowa County Map of Physical Activity Levels among Residents

Reduced risk of having:

  • high blood pressure
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • some cancers certain cancers
  • heart disease

Weight loss and weight maintenance

Lowered stress

Greater self-esteem

Improved mental health. E.g., less anxiety, depression, and bad mood

Improved sleep, energy and stamina, and reduced fatigue

Micropolitan communities often have lower rates of physical activity. They can have less access to places to be physically active than urban places.

The Beginning of Active Iowa

The strategies used in Active Iowa were tested in Ottumwa, Iowa. Community organizations and members and the University of Iowa worked together. This partnership formed a program called Active Ottumwa. Through research done in the Active Ottumwa, the PRC-RH found the community of Ottumwa benefited from the program. ­­­Ottumwa residents showed a shift away from inactivity to light physical activity, like walking. The success of Active Ottumwa led the PRC-RH to design a new project to spread the model for increasing physical activity to other micropolitan communities. To learn more about the Active Ottumwa program and lessons, learned, check out the 10-part podcast series “A Community on the Move: The Story of Active Ottumwa”.

Goals of Active Iowa

The goals of Active Iowa are to:

To reach these goals, communities must:

1) find interested organizations to sponsor the program in each community.

2) use the PRC-RH staff to help train and guide community leaders to carry out the Active Iowa program that best fits the resources and needs of their community.

The combined effort and buy-in of communities are key. Involved communities will find and train volunteers, named Physical Activity Leaders (PALs). PALs lead different types of physical activity classes and activities. They also support people’s physical activity goals.

Study Design

The PRC-RH team was involved in each part of Active Ottumwa. They are here to provide help to Active Iowa communities. Involved communities will have different levels of support. The PRC-RH will test the success of each Active Iowa program.

Manual of Implementation

Each Active Iowa community will get the Active Iowa Manual of Implementation. This supports communities to put Active Iowa in place and assess their program’s results. The manual gives a framework to create and adapt Active Iowa to fit each community.

Some highlights from the manual include:

  • How to start and keep a Community Advisory Board (CAB).
  • A summary of evidence in the Community Guide. The Community Guide, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), shows findings from current health programs. The strategies give a list of possible activities to build into an Active Iowa program. Strategies fall into one of three approaches:
    • Behavioral and social strategies to give people skills and support so they can adopt and/or maintain health behaviors.
    • Campaigns and Informational strategies increase awareness and understanding of an Active Iowa Program.
    • Environmental strategies focus on an area’s physical environment, policies, and laws.
  • The flexibility of Active Iowa to individual communities. The manual describes the important pieces to reach the program’s goals. It outlines which factors can be changed based on needs of a community.
  • Guidelines for starting and maintaining an Active Iowa program.
  • Helpful resources, templates, and example materials.



COVID-19 Impact

COVID-19 has changed daily life. It has also altered the plan for Active Iowa. Active Iowa will be still be brought to communities, but the timeline has been pushed back until communities can begin to heal.

PRC-RH Contact

How can I get my Community Involved?

If you are interested in joining Active Iowa and are a part of a Micropolitan community (between 2,500 and 50,000 people), contact Active Iowa’s Program Manager, Becky Bucklin, at