Health Benefits

Across the United States more and more health care professionals are seeing the importance of spending time outside. Trails will continue to grow as an essential component of having a healthy and happy population for their impacts on four aspects of health below:

Physical Activity

However you choose to get out on a trail- walking, running, biking, rolling,- it always gets you active. Trails provide safe, inexpensive, and accessible places for people of all ages and abilities to exercise. Increased levels of consistent physical activity are correlated with healthier outcomes and reduced mortality rates in both young and older adults. Check out these studies:

The East Coast Greenway in the Triangle Region has seen the returns of health benefits. By changing the ability of residents to get out and live active lifestyles, a boost in wellness has saved over $14 million in healthcare costs per year, with 3,592,000 hours of physical activity being seen on the trails per year (Source: The Impact of Greenways in the Triangle).

A 2017 Study by the Eppley Institute of Indiana University found that 67% of trail users report increasing their exercise because of the presence of a trail. Additionally, trail users reported better overall health, fewer sleep problems, less pain, and less stress.

According to the World Health Organization, physical inactivity linked to poor walkability and lack of access to recreational areas account for 3.3% of global deaths.

According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation infrastructure and programming could significantly lower costs of individual medical care and public health costs by reducing stress levels and obesity, while increasing physical activity and social bonds (Outdoor Recreation Economy, 2017).

Mental Health and Well Being

Along with massive physical health benefits, more and more studies are demonstrating that green space and nature experiences have a strong association with increased psychological well being.

Even bigger impacts have been found for children. A nationwide study in Denmark found that childhood exposure to green space reduces the risk for developing a variety of psychiatric disorders during adolescence and adulthood.

For persons with mental illness, time spent outside can be especially important. The World Health Organization found that access to green space can improve overall well being but also can aid treatment of mental illness. It also reduces risk factors and burdens of some types of mental illness. 

Check out this article from National Geographic: This is Your Brain on Nature

Reduced Pollution

Tree canopies along greenways help filter out harmful air pollutants, thereby decreasing public exposure to respiratory illnesses leading to healthier lungs.  What supports the health of our environment supports human health too.  Additionally trails and greenways are increasingly used as pathways for alternate transportation. Not surprisingly people indicate time and again that they would be more likely to bike if there were more safer options like greenways. Many studies have found that the volume of cyclists increase when communities create more greenways and bike lanes.

Check out this list of studies from People for Bikes.

Social Health

Trails and green spaces provide essential safe areas for social interaction and recreation. Trails have been call the new town square. They are now vital to social cohesion and sense of place. Check out our section on Community Benefits, because a stronger sense of community often means better health.