Want to stay healthy? Hit the trails.

01/09/2019

We all assume that recreating outside is good for our health. Now, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) has the numbers to back up this claim.

Our new report — titled Health Benefits for Oregonians from their Outdoor Recreation Participation in Oregon — shows Oregonian’s participation in outdoor recreation activities saves the state $1.4 billion annually in healthcare costs related to chronic illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, depression, dementia, diabetes and several cancers.

As if that number isn’t as impressive enough, the report estimates that Oregonians who participated in outdoor recreation in 2017 expended energy equivalent to 144 million pounds of body fat, which would fill nearly 30 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Gross. But also enlightening.

Terry Bergerson, Outdoor Recreation Planner for OPRD, started laying the groundwork for this report a decade ago. He knew the data would come from the surveys he conducts every five years that inform the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP). The surveys tease out information about how Oregonians participate in outdoor recreation, and Terry strategically added questions about height, weight and respondent’s physical activity levels.

He also reached out to Economist Randy Rosenberger with the College of Forestry at Oregon State University. OPRD commissioned Randy to analyze the survey data and prepare the report. Randy and his research team developed a tool to quantify the “Cost of Illness” savings when people engage in 30 outdoor activities, including walking, hiking, skiing, paddling and outdoor sports like tennis and soccer.

Now is the part of this article where we share some information on how he calculated this data, particularly the swimming pool bit. Well, it has to do with METs and kcals of energy and this impressive formula that calculates the Population Attributable Fraction (PAF):

You got that, right? If not, the full 89-page report details the methodology.

Why is this such a big deal, you ask?

The sheer scope of this project sets it apart from smaller studies that have been done in the past. “This is huge, because no state has ever quantified the cumulative savings at a statewide level,” Terry said.

But also: the report provides information by recreation activity at both the statewide and county levels, which means local governments on up to state agencies including DHS and ODOT have numbers to support investment in parks, trails, sidewalks and bike lanes.

OPRD’s director, Lisa Sumption, sums it up best:

“The findings are clear. Communities with parks have more opportunities to become healthier communities. Every time we invest in parks, we’re investing in the wellbeing of Oregonians.”