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Health and fitness benefits of trails and greenways
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Recent studies evaluate trails and health

From the Fall 2005 issue of Trail Tracks, the magazine of American Trails

From Dr. John Librett

photo of busy wide paved trail

Runners, walkers, and bicyclists all use Austin's Town Lake Trail with its low-cost crushed rock surface


A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Physical Activity Using Bike/Pedestrian Trails

Authors: Guijing Wang, PhD, Caroline A. Macera, PhD, Barbara Scudder-Soucie, Med, Tom Schmid, PhD, Michael Pratt, MD, MPH, David Buchner, MD, MPH

Journal: Health Promotion Practice; April 2005 Vol. 6, No. 2, 174-179

From a public health perspective, a cost-benefit analysis of using bike/pedestrian trails in Lincoln, Nebraska, to reduce health care costs associated with inactivity, was conducted. Data was obtained from the city's 1998 Recreational Trails Census Report and the literature. Per capita annual cost of using the trails was U.S.$209.28 ($59.28 construction and maintenance, $150 of equipment and travel). Per capita annual direct medical benefit of using the trails was $564.41. The cost-benefit ratio was 2.94, which means that every $1 investment in trails for physical activity led to $2.94 in direct medical benefit. The sensitivity analyses indicated the ratios ranged from 1.65 to 13.40. Therefore, building trails is cost beneficial from a public health perspective. The most sensitive parameter affecting the cost-benefit ratios were equipment and travel costs; however, even for the highest cost, every $1 investment in trails resulted in a greater return in direct medical benefit.

Wheeling Walks: Evaluation of a Media-Based Community Intervention

Authors: Reger-Nash B, Bauman A, Booth-Butterfield S, Cooper L, Smith H, Chey T, Simon KJ.

Journal: Family and Community Health. 28(1):64-78,2005.

Wheeling Walks, a community-wide, media-based physical activity intervention implemented in Wheeling, WV, targeted sedentary and irregularly active adults ages 50 to 65. Television, radio and newspaper, public relation events, and educational activities were used to promote walking in the community. Telephone surveys were used during the intervention to collect data at baseline, and 3-, 6- and 12- month post-intervention. Higher levels of overall walking were achieved. Among the least active individuals, a higher level of walking was sustained 12 months after the intervention.

Take Pride in America's Health: Volunteering as a Gateway to Physical Activity

Authors: Librett J, Yore MM, Buchner DM, Schmid TL

Journal: American Journal of Health Education. 36(1);8-13,2005.

A survey of 2,032 people, representative of all US adults, shows that people who volunteer are more likely to meet CDC/ACSM physical activity recommendations (5 days per week, 30 minutes of moderate activity or 3 days per week, 20 minutes of vigorous activity) compared to people who do not volunteer (47% vs. 32%). Those involved in environmentally based programs were 2.6 times more likely to meet physical activity recommendations. Causal pathways are still unclear (are those who volunteer more active to begin with or do volunteer activities provide more physical activity?). These findings may prompt health educators to establish partnerships with volunteer programs as a means to increase/maintain physical activity and to further research on this topic.

Evaluating Change in Physical Activity with the: Building of a Multi-Use Trail

Authors: Kelly R. Evenson, PhD, Amy H. Herring, ScD, Sara L. Huston, PhD

Journal: American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2005;28(2S2):177-185

Cross-sectional studies suggest a positive association between the presence of trails and physical activity participation. Prospective evaluations of the impact of building a multi-use trail, in terms of change in physical activity levels among nearby residents, are needed. The study was designed as a quasi-experimental noncontrol pre-post design. Participants included 366 adults aged _18 years living within 2 miles of the evaluated trail. A railway of _23 miles was under development for conversion to a multi-use trail in central North Carolina. A segment of the trail was evaluated by randomly selecting and telephone interviewing adults living within 2 miles of the planned trail before trail construction began and approximately 2 months after completion of construction. Outcomes were time spent in leisure activity, leisure activity near home, walking, bicycling, moderate activity, vigorous activity, and transportation activity. At follow-up, of the 366 adults living within 2 miles of the trail, 11.0% had not heard of the trail, and 23.1% had heard of the trail and had used it at least once. In multivariable logistic models, leisure activity, leisure activity near home, moderate activity, vigorous activity, and walking for transportation did not significantly change for those who used the trail compared to those not using the trail. This prospective study of the building of a multi-use trail did not demonstrate an increase in physical activity among adults living near the trail. Other prospective studies are encouraged, to take advantage of rigorously evaluating different types of trails that are to be constructed in rural and urban settings.

Use of a Community Trail Among New and Habitual Exercisers: A Preliminary Assessment

Authors: Heesch K, Mâsse L.

Journal: Women and Health, 39(3): 45-62, 2004.

Two hundred forty-nine African American and Hispanic women in Houston, Texas kept a detailed activity dairy for 7 days to examine their perceived and actual time for physical activity. During waking hours, the participants spent most of their time at work, doing household chores and personal care tasks. The amount of time spent at work, doing household chores and/or tending to other responsibilities did not influence the women's perception of their lack of time for physical activity. Little time was spent engaged in physical activity even though most women had about 28 hours of leisure time per week. Most of their leisure time was spent being sedentary.

Cost effectiveness of a bicycle/pedestrian trail development in health promotion

Authors: Guijing Wang, Ph.D., Caroline A. Macera, Ph.D.,a Barbara Scudder-Soucie, MEd., Tom Schmid, Ph.D., Michael Pratt, M.D., M.P.H., and David Buchner, M.D., M.P.H.

Journal: Journal Preventive Medicine 38 (2004) 237-242

A persistently low population level of physical activity is a challenge for public health. data on cost effectiveness of environmental interventions are needed to inform the development and implementing of such interventions. To conduct cost-effectiveness analysis of bicycle/pedestrian trails. The costs of trail development and number of users of four trails in Lincoln, NE, were obtained. The costs were adjusted to 2003 dollars. The physical activity-related outcomes/items are number of users who were more physically active since they began using the trails, number of users who were physically active for general health, and number of users who were physically active for weight loss. Cost effectiveness measures were derived. Sensitivity analysis was performed. The annual trail development cost US$289,035, 73% of which was construction cost. Of the 3,986 trail users, 88% were active at least 3 days a week. The average annual cost for persons becoming more physically active was US$98 (range US$65-253); the cost was US$142 (range US$95-366) for persons who are active for general health, and US$884 (range US$590-2,287) for persons who are active for weight loss. This analysis provides basic cost-effectiveness measures of bicycle/pedestrian trails. Policymakers can use this information in making resource allocation decisions.

A Community-Based Approach to Promoting Walking in Rural Areas

Authors: Brownson RC, Baker EA, Boyd RL, Caito NM, Duggan K, Housemann RA, Kreuter MW, Mitchell T, Motton F, Pulley C, Schmid TL, Walton, D.

Journal: American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 24(1): 28-34, 2004.

Researchers in Missouri used a community -based approach to study changes in walking behaviors in six rural communities in Missouri compared to six comparison communities in Arkansas and Tennessee. Community size, poverty level and percentage of African Americans were used matched the intervention and comparison communities. Focus groups and community committees were used to gather input about preferred intervention methods. The interventions, aimed at adults over age 18, included a newsletter, feedback letters, individualized walking reports for those using a card reader system at trail sites, walking clubs and walking events. Thirty-two percent of the people who used the trail at baseline (16.9% of total population) reported increases in physical activity. There was an increase in trail usage but none of the subgroups showed a significant increase in physical activity in the intervention communities.

Use of a Community Trail Among New and Habitual Exercisers: A Preliminary Assessment

Authors: Gordon PM, Zizzi SJ, Pauline J.

Journal: Preventing Chronic Disease: Public Health Research, Practice and Policy [serial online]. 1(4): 2004 [retrieved 9/21/04].

Available from URL: <>

Adults, ages 18 to 82, using new paved surface trails in Morgantown, West Virginia were surveyed about their trail activity patterns. Twenty-three percent (n=93) of those surveyed were new exercisers and 77% (n=321) were habitual exercisers. New exercisers reported safety, terrain and convenience as a primary reasons for using the trails and participated in moderate activities on the trails, such as walking. Habitual exercisers reported terrain, convenience and scenery as primary reasons for using the trails and participated in more vigorous activities on the trails, such as biking, running and inline skating. Twenty-five percent of new exercisers also reported becoming regular exercisers as a result the trail development suggesting the value of trails in the promotion of physical activity.

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