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More Walk Trails – More Happy Residents

It turns out that by improving infrastructures that encourage physical activity in public spaces, local authorities can help residents become happier.

Walking along the Hecht Promenade, Haifa

Local authorities have an influence on creating physical and perceptual environments in which to move, promoting physical activity. For example, it is far more comfortable and safer to go hiking or perform outdoor activities at no cost, in an environment and safe walk trails with lights, parks, and shaded fitness facilities that are easily accessed. Cities can also initiate events, guided activities, etc. that not only allow people to integrate physical activity  with their daily routine – but also make the activity visible, conspicuous and therefore normative and acceptable. The same is true for institutions where local authorities have considerable influence, such as schools and preschools, youth centers and more.

But it turns out that there are other benefits for residents of the authorities that develop physical activity infrastructures. In a 2013 Philadelphia study, it was found that in cities with regulated sidewalks and walkways and well-lit parks, there are more healthy residents who are also satisfied with their quality of life.

The proportion of residents who are satisfied can be attributed, among other things, to a reduction in air and noise pollution, to a more pleasant and green environment and to their active lives. Of course, the authorities also benefit: Investing in general policies and programs that make the environment more friendly to activities makes the authorities more attractive to residents, employers and visitors. So, adopting an active lifestyle contributes to the mental health of community members, social cohesion and economic benefit.

Access to walk trails also reduces obesity among teenagers

Another study conducted at the University of Missouri and the University of Minnesota in the US found that increasing access to recreational trails may be associated with a decrease in obesity rates among teens. Researchers found that in areas where there are more recreational trails, woodland and forestland, young people are more engaged in physical activity and suffer less from obesity.

The researchers analyzed data from various districts across Minnesota and compared the extent of physical activity and obesity of teens in grades 9 and 12, compared to the presence of recreational trails and green areas in their area. They concluded that there was a link between increased access to recreational trails outdoors and lower obesity rates.

On the other hand, in areas where there were more nature reserves and parks that did not offer recreational trails, physical activity rates were lower. This is because most people hike in nature reserves to enjoy the environment, but not necessarily to engage in physical activity . However, access to recreational trails may also increase the scope of physical activity: walking, jogging and cycling. The researchers concluded that the study shows how policymakers can improve public health through planning and infrastructure policy.

Further reading

Full study, University of Missouri and University of Minnesota

Healthy Cities Network Website