Category Archives: Trail Benefits

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

Greenway Trails = Improved Community Health

The design and planning of our communities plays a major part in our health and wellbeing. The consequences of sprawl are very serious for many reasons. Here’s just one:

The Challenges in Health: Getting America Moving Again

Physical inactivity is a major cause of sickness and disease in the United States. Inactivity – and its close companion, obesity – are responsible for as many as 23 percent of all premature deaths from the major chronic diseases. This is true despite many recent advances in the prevention and treatment of these diseases. Inactivity and obesity threaten the current and future health of millions of Americans.

Sound depressing? Sure, but here’s another way to think of it: Americans aren’t overweight, they’re just under-walked and under-biked!

Take a quick look at some sobering statistics:

* Obesity is associated with a lot of trouble we don’t want for ourselves or our families: heart disease, certain types of cancer, Type 2 Diabetes, stroke, arthritis, breathing problems, and psychological disorders, such as depression.

* The percentage of overweight adolescents has nearly tripled in the past two decades. In 1999, 13 percent of children aged 6 to 11 years and 14 percent of adolescents aged 12 to 19 years were overweight.

Back in 1918, the U.S. Children’s Bureau said, “The health of the child is the power of the nation.” That’s why people in public health today are so alarmed about the percentage of overweight young people. They know that all types of physical activity tend to decline as we get older.

* Did we mention expensive? The cost of health problems associated with obesity in the United States in 2000 was estimated to be a staggering $117 billion.

Let’s examine what’s fueling our troubling trends.

One major factor is urban sprawl and a transportation system designed for cars, rather than people. The decline in physical activity – and the related surge in obesity – parallels the lack of opportunities we have to bicycle and walk in and beyond our neighborhoods.

Walking and bicycling aren’t just about enjoying the outdoors: they are key components of a strong nation’s public-health plan. By taking a walk or going for a bike ride, you are actually practicing preventative medicine. The opportunities that exist (or don’t exist) to enjoy these activities are a reflection of your community’s commitment to the health and well-being of you and your neighbors.

From The National Center for Bicycling and Walking (