A report released this week by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department suggests that outdoor recreation saves the state more than $1 billion annually, and that more funding is needed to increase the benefits of outdoor recreation.
The report, titled Health Benefits Estimates for Oregonians from Their Outdoor Recreation Participation in Oregon, suggests that participation in outdoor recreation nets the state $1.4 billion in savings by reducing health care costs. According to the Salem Statesman Journal, those savings come mostly by reducing costs associated with chronic illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, depression, dementia, diabetes and cancers.
Researchers led by Oregon State University’s Randall Rosenberger looked at the 30 most-popular types of outdoor recreation based on survey data, and developed a tool to quantify the cost of illness savings when Oregonians engage in those activities.
In all, the report found that participants in the 30 most-popular outdoor recreation activities used 503 billion kcals of energy — the equivalent of 144 million pounds of body fat, enough to fill nearly 30 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
The most popular activities identified in the report were non-motorized trail activities such as walking or running on local streets, sidewalks and trails.
“The results are consistent across the state: when outdoor recreation is easily accessible, healthcare costs go down,” Rosenberger said. “How we design communities and transportation systems contributes to the health of Oregonians.”
As such, the report says that one of the best ways to boost community health is to simply provide better access to trails.
“We heard it time and again, across every demographic: the best way to get people outdoors and increase physical activity was to have more close-to-home trail systems,” state parks and recreation department planner Terry Bergerson told the Statesman Journal.
"The study suggests that an investment in state resources for non-motorized trail development has the potential to significantly influence community health and may be a cost-effective health prevention strategy for the state of Oregon," the report reads.