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Title: health and fitness
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Fitness aspects of trails gain national attention

The widely-accepted goal is to encourage active use of trails for positive health outcomes.

By Stuart Macdonald and Rich Dolesh (from Trail Tracks, New Years 2004)

Cover of Time Magazine

American Trails is focusing on the issue of improving health through outdoor recreation, along with many others in the trails community, including the National Recreation and Park Association and the National Park Service. As public agencies have "discovered" the problem of an increasingly sedentary and overweight America, it is even more important for trails activists to get involved.

"The promise of new alliances between public health officials and the outdoor recreation community seems very hopeful."

Active use of trails for positive health outcomes is being seen more and more by health professionals as an excellent way to encourage people to adopt lifestyle changes that will bring lifetime health benefits.

To help make sense of the initiatives, funding opportunities, and other resources for trails and health, we are launching a whole new area on our website at You'll find links to federal programs, publications, and community partnerships with parks and trails advocates.

Asking the right questions

The promise of new alliances between public health officials and the outdoor recreation community seems very hopeful, yet there are many questions which are just beginning to be explored:

— How do we motivate people to get out and use trails?

— What are the most effective ways to let the public know about opportunities for trails, walking, bicycling, and riding?

— How do we measure, and how do trail users measure, positive health outcomes from regular and increased trail use?

— Can we make a case that increased funding to develop trails and greenways will save health expenditures in the long term?

— What kinds of trails are most useful and attractive for health and fitness seekers?

— How can we design better trails that encourage use by people who don't see themselves as "outdoor enthusiasts?"

The future of health and trails

Along with other trail groups we are exploring several comprehensive trails and health initiatives including development of training programs, informational and educational campaigns, and partnerships with programmers and trail managers who are interested in these innovative ideas.

— Publicizing trails and greenways across America that effectively promote health through education, publicity, and programs.

— Identifying design techniques that attract people to use trails.

— Identifying appropriate ways of using State trails program funding to improve the health benefits of trails.

— Developing workshops to showcase programs and techniques.

— Making the best resources on health available on our websites.

You'll be hearing more about this Trails and Health initative. If you are interested in sharing ideas and finding out more contact Rich Dolesh of the National Recreation and Park Association at For more on programs and communities that connect trails and health, visit Pick "Health & Trails" from the "Select a topic" menu.

Stuart Macdonald is chair of the National Association of State Trails Administrators and Rich Dolesh is Richard Dolesh is Senior Policy Associate, Natural Resources, with the National Recreation and Park Asociation.

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