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More News and Research on Trails and Health

Only 25% of adults engage in recommended exercise levels.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have released a summary report on leisure-time physical activity during 1990-1998. While those who engaged in recommended levels of activity increased slightly from 24.3% in 1990 to 25.4% in 1998, those reporting insufficient activity increased from 45.0% in 1990 to 45.9% in 1998. Those reporting no physical activity decreased from 30.7% in 1990 to 28.7% in 1998.

"Everybody knows they should exercise. So why do so few people actually do it?"

While the levels of physical activity are "stable," the tremendous increase in levels of obesity during the same period underscores the need for a coordinated and concentrated campaign to increase physical activity in the U.S. Another CDC survey shows that more and more children (13%) and teens (14%) are overweight, continuing the pattern the survey documented over the past two decades when the number of overweight children doubled.

How do we get people out on the trails for their health?

An article in the Wall Street Journal asks a provocative question: "Everybody knows they should exercise. So why do so few people actually do it?" Surveys generally find that 60% or so of adult Americans get little or no exercise. Less than 10% of school children walk or ride their bicycles to school. But in the early 1970s, over 60% walked and biked.

What has caused the drop in physical activity in the face of so much publicity about exercise and fitness? One answer is the change in our human environment. While people traditionally walked to school or shopping, in typical new housing areas they simply can't. According to Gregory Heath of the Centers for Disease Control, "Many of these communities are isolated-living communities. They lack connectivity to commerce, education, and entertainment."

Another reason people don't exercise is lack of time. Here is where trails can benefit tremendously: safe and attractive routes to work, to school, to church, and to shopping are all ways that people can combine exercise with necessary trips. Instead of driving to the gym to use the treadmill, our goal should be to make trails part of everyday life for more people.

The challenge, according to the Journal, is to help people change the way they think about exercise&emdash; "instead of regarding fitness as a fad or the province of marathon runners and the hard-body set, and considering it instead as a necessary part of our daily routine."

Nebraska coalition studies opinions on trails and parks

The Nebraska Health and Human Services system coordinated a 2000 study of residents on their opinions on trails, physical activity, and parks. Though the health benefits of physical activity are well documented, a quarter of adult Nebraskans engage in no leisure-time physical activity.

The survey, designed to understand attitudes and promote the use of trails and parks to improve fitness, is titled Support for Walking and Biking Trails and Recreational Sites; Strategies to Promote Physical Activity in Nebraska. Findings include:

  • 47% use trails in their community
  • 13% had ridden a bike to work at least once in the last year
  • 56% would use trails if they had one in their community
  • 78% agree that trails are an asset to a community
  • 74% believe that more recreation trails should be developed throughout the state
  • 68% support public funds being used to build trails

Spring 2001

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