Promoting physical activity in rural communities: walking trail access, use, and effects

R C Brownson, R A Housemann, D R Brown, J Jackson-Thompson, A C King, B R Malone, J F Sallis
American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2000, 18 (3): 235-41

INTRODUCTION: Environmental and policy approaches to promote physical activity, such as walking trail construction and promotion, are being widely recommended, yet sparse data exist on their effectiveness. In conjunction with ongoing community-intervention projects in Missouri, walking trails are being built, promoted, and evaluated. Objectives include determining: (1) patterns and correlates of walking, (2) the availability of places to walk and perform other forms of physical activity, (3) the extent of walking trail use and possible effects on rates of physical activity, and (4) attitudes toward the trails and their uses.

METHODS: In 12 rural counties in Missouri we used a cross-s ectional telephone survey to ask a population-based sample of residents aged >18 years (n=1269) some standard and specially developed questions about walking behaviors, knowledge, and attitudes.

RESULTS: Only 19.5% of respondents were classified as regular walkers. About one third of respondents (36.5%) reported having access to walking trails in their area, and 50.3% reported having access to indoor facilities for exercise. Among persons with access to walking trails, 38.8% had used the trails. Groups who were more likely to have used the walking trails included women, persons with more education, those making $35,000 or more per year, and regular walkers. Among persons who had used the trails, 55.2% reported they had increased their amount of walking since they began using the trail. Women and persons with a high school education or less were more than twice as likely to have increased the amount of walking since they began using the walking trails.

CONCLUSIONS: Walking trails may be beneficial in promoting physical activity among segments of the population at highest risk for inactivity, in particular women and persons in lower socioeconomic groups.

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