-advocating for the Wakefield-Lynnfield  Rail Trail project.

Lynnfield Rail Trail

Health and Wellness Benefits of Trails and Recreational Paths

The proposed Wakefield-Lynnfield Rail Trail will be a great asset to our community. As a greenway / linear park / multi-seasonal trail it will provide valuable health and wellness benefits to all ages and abilities. It has been shown that the cost of these types of trails are more than offset through the health benefits and reduced healthcare costs for residents. Good health is everyone's major source of wealth.

From a health and wellness perspective, the following have been documented as benefits of trails:

  • Easy access to trails enables citizens to improve their lifestyle and mitigate a wide range of health problems.[1]  An increase in chronic diseases caused by an aging population as well as an inactive lifestyle across all age groups has developed to a national public health crisis as well as a burden to the individual.
  • In addition, mental health benefits have been widely documented, especially in the young. As little as five minutes of exercise in a "green space" such as a park can boost mental health. A bigger effect was seen with exercise in an area that also contained water - such as a lake or river.[2]
  • This finding supports research in the social sciences, which proposes that strong relationships with other people contribute to positive health outcomes. Trails and parks contribute to health in multiple ways. Trail experiences play a role in combating stress and building strong community relationships as it promotes closeness of our ties to our neighbors and strengthens our personal relationships.[3]
  • Proximity and easy access is essential to the utilization of trails. In a well-designed community, homes, parks, stores, and schools are connected by safe walking and biking routes. Having access to trails encourages residents to participate in physical activity and do so more often. The closer residents live to a trail, the more likely they are to walk or bike to places, and use it for exercise.[4]
  • We need to recognize the importance of outdoor exercise and provide access to residents:

- Looking at data from 833 people and 11 different trials, researchers found that exercising outside melted away levels of tension, anger and depression.[5] In addition, outdoor exercise promotes higher Vitamin D levels and simply allows us to connect with nature, making it more enjoyable and increasing the chance that we continue doing it.[6]

- In a West Virginia study, 60 percent of trail users report they exercise more regularly since they began using trails, and 47 percent of trail users report getting their recommended physical activity through trail use alone.[7]

- Trails in Missouri increase exercise particularly among people most at risk of inactivity.[8]

- In the United Kingdom, analysis of 10 different studies found significant improvements in self-esteem and mood after participants exercised outside in urban   parks, farmland, forests, waterside, and wilderness.[9]
- Several communities[10], [11] and states[12], [13, [14] have measured the savings in health care costs due to residents’ exercise on trails, and compared these benefits to the costs of building the trails. Although it can be challenging to isolate physical activity associated only with trails, researchers have found the benefits from reduced health care costs far outweigh the cost of trail construction.[15]

In conclusion, the health benefits of trails have been demonstrated. It has also shown that they support not only physical but also mental health and the social wellbeing of a community. Once provided, they will be used by local residents who will appreciate the positive impact on their physical and social lives.


The Friends of the Lynnfield Rail Trail

1. Rails to Trails Conservancy. “Health and Wellness Benefits”, https://www.railstotrails.org/resourcehandler.ashx?name=health-and-wellness-benefits-of-trails-and-greenways&id=3070&fileName=HealthandWellness.pdf

2. BBC News, May 1, 2010. “Green' exercise quickly 'boosts mental health.” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/8654350.stm

3. National Recreation and Park Association, Dec. 2016. “The Health Benefits of a Bicycle-Pedestrian Trail.” http://www.nrpa.org/parks-recreation-magazine/2016/december/the-health-benefits-of-a-bicycle-pedestrian-trail/

4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Oct. 2014. “Parks, Trails and Health.” https://www.cdc.gov/healthyplaces/healthtopics/parks.htm

5. Glamour Magazine, Feb. 8, 2011. “Which Is Better For You: Exercising Indoors Or Outdoors?” https://www.glamour.com/story/exercising-outside-or-at-the-g

6. Active.com. “6 Reasons to Ditch the Gym and Exercise Outside.” https://www.active.com/fitness/articles/6-reasons-to-ditch-the-gym-and-exercise-outside

7. Abildso, C., S. Zizzi, S. Selin, and P. Gordon. 2012. “Assessing the cost effectiveness of a community rail-trail in achieving physical activity gains.” Journal of Park and Recreation Administration 30(2): 102-113.

8. Brownson, R., R. Housemann, D. Brown, J. Jackson-Thompson, A. King, B. Malone, and J. Sallis. 2000. “Promoting Physical Activity in Rural Communities: Walking Trail Access, Use, and Effects.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 18(3): 235-242.

9. Barton, J., and J. Pretty. 2010. “What is the best dose of nature and green exercise for improving mental health? A multi-study analysis.” Environmental Science and Technology 44(10): 3947-3955.

10. Deenihan, G. and B. Caulfield. 2014. “Estimating the Health Economic Benefits of Cycling.” Journal of Transport & Health 1(2): 141-149.

11. Wang, G., C.A. Macera, B. Scudder-Soucie, T. Schmid, M. Pratt, and D. Buchner. 2005. “A cost-benefit analysis of physical activity using bike/pedestrian trails.” Health Promotion Practice 6: 174-179

12. Grabow, M., M. Hahn, and M. Whited. 2010. “Valuing Bicycling’s Economic and Health Impacts in Wisconsin.” The Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

13. 7 BBC Research & Consulting. 2014. “Community and Economic Benefits of Bicycling in Michigan.” Prepared for the Michigan Department of Transportation

14. National Conference of State Legislators, Nov. 2008. Encouraging Bicycling and Walking the State Legislative Role.” http://www.ncsl.org/documents/transportation/encouragingbicyclingwalking.pdf

15. Headwater Economics, Spring 2016, “Measuring Trails Benefits: Public Health”, https://headwaterseconomics.org/wp-content/uploads/trails-library-public-health-overview.pdf