Promoting Physical Activity Through Trails

CDC trails and health
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion

Trails have been built and maintained in this country mainly for reasons related to transportation and recreation. Rarely, however, have people asked how important are trails to our health and whether trails should be a resource accessible to multiple-types of recreation users?
There is strong scientific evidence that regular physical activity promotes health and reduces risk of premature death and many chronic diseases. It is recommended that adults obtain a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate intensity (e.g., brisk walking) on most, if not all, days of the week.
Indeed, there is now scientific evidence that providing access to places for physical activity increases the level of physical activity in a community.1 The Task Force on Community Preventive Services strongly recommends creating or enhancing access to trails and other places for physical activity. However, just building trails is not enough, the Task Force highlighted that communication strategies and outreach activities that promote using trails and facilities are also recommended. A typical study of an intervention to create or enhance access to places for physical activity reports a 25% increase in physical activity levels.2

The health benefits of using trails are significant

* Regular physical activity is a key component of any weight loss effort.3 Greater access to trails can directly impact our nation’s obesity epidemic by improving access to places for physical activity and opportunities.

* Participating in aerobic training significantly reduces systolic and diastolic blood pressure.4 Trails provide the opportunity for individuals to help control their hypertension (high blood pressure).

* Moderate physical activity such as walking and cycling on trails can protect against developing non-insulin dependent diabetes.5

* Through aerobic exercise training, walking and cycling on trails can improve symptoms of mild-to-moderate depression and anxiety of a magnitude comparable to that obtained with some pharmacological agent.6

* Studies have reported that walking two or more miles a day reduces the chance of premature death by 50%.7

Trails Reach the Whole Community

Many commonly recognized activities related to physical activity exclude large segments of the community. For example: organized team sports may favor athletically gifted individuals and families with sufficient financial means; fitness centers may favor individuals who have high self-determination and fitness ability; youth recreational programs may favor young children. Trails however, represent a diversity of opportunity from the gifted athlete interested in a convenient place to train to the individuals who are looking for an aesthetically pleasing place to take an after dinner walk to a family walking to spend time together.

Many Users—Many Uses

Trails are a medium that offers many opportunities for physical activity:

* Walking the dog
* Walking as break from work
* Walking to a scenic outlook
* Walking as a break from driving
* Rollerblade/inline skating
* Jogging & Running
* Wheelchair accessible recreation
* Bicycling
* Cross County Skiing and Snowshoeing
* Fishing and hunting
* Horseback riding
* Landscaping and trail maintenance
* Bird watching
* Playing with children
* Strolling with infants and toddlers
* Spending time with friends & relatives
* Your ideas here. . .


American Hiking Society’s “Hikers Info Center”*
The National Park Service; Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program
Promoting Physical Activity Through Recreation In America’s Great Outdoors
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy*
Trails and Greenways Clearinghouse*
CDC’s Brochure, Trails for Health: Promoting Healthy Lifestyles & Environments (PDF – 95.5K)
This is also available as a text-only 508-accessible version (PDF – 86.3K).

Related Information
National Partnership Promotes Health and Recreation

For more information about this contact
Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity,
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention
and Health Promotion,
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
4770 Buford Highway, NE, MS/K-24
Atlanta, GA 30341-3717
Telephone (770) 488-5820
Fax (770) 488-5473


1. Creating or Improving Access to Places for Physical Activity is Strongly Recommended to Increase Physical Activity. The Task Force on Community Preventive Services. Available: [on-line]*

2. Ibid

3. US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease and Health Promotion. Promoting Physical Activity: A Guide for Community Action.

4. Y.A. Kesaniemi, E. Danforth, M.D. Jensen , P.G. Kopelman, P. Lefebvre, B.R. Reeder. Dose-response issues concerning physical activity and health: an evidence-based symposium. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 33(6):S352-S358.

5. Knowler WC, Barrett-Connor E, Fowler SE, Hamman RF, Lachin JM, Walker EA, Nathan DM; Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group. Reduction in the incidence of type 2 diabetes with lifestyle intervention or metformin. N Engl J Med 2002 Feb 7;346(6):393-403.

6. Ibid

7. Hakim, A.A., H. Petrovitch, C.M. Burchfiel, et al. Effects of walking on mortality among non-smoking retired men. N. Eng. J. Med. 338:94-99, 1998.

This page last updated March 04, 2004
United States Department of Health and Human Services
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity