"In one town in West Virginia, there were very few sidewalks, no biking or hiking trails, no convenient way for people to exercise locally," he said. "So they converted an abandoned rail line into a new hiking trail; and research found that 25 percent of the people who used it were previously sedentary - the people who really needed it the most."

Even moderate levels of activity can have a significant impact on health and longevity, even if it doesn't result in weight loss, research is showing. It can affect everything from cardiovascular health, diabetes and cancer to reduced levels of depression, increased energy and vigor, and increases in self-esteem. Informational programs should focus more on health and less on weight loss, the scientists said, and even physicians need to be more conscious of this in their recommendations to patients.

It's necessary for state and local policy makers who are dealing with competing budgetary demands to become more informed about the health benefits of outdoor recreational opportunities and consider them in their allocations of scarce resources, the researchers said in their study, which was published last fall in the Journal of Park and Recreation Administration.

The study was conducted by scientists from OSU, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department and the Pacific Northwest Research Station of the USDA Forest Service. It was one part of the 2008-12 Oregon Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan.

"Getting sedentary people physically active will lead to health benefits for them and reduction in the health care burden on society," the scientists wrote in their conclusion. "Gaps in recreation supply are not simply the lack of facilities, although this is important, but also their location, accessibility and diversity of opportunities."

Source: Oregon State University