To provide a synthesis of research on trails and physical activity from the public health, leisure sciences, urban planning, and transportation literatures.
A search of databases was conducted to identify studies published between 1980 and 2008.
52 studies were identified. The majority were cross-sectional (92%) and published after 1999 (77%). The evidence for the effects of trails on physical activity was mixed among 3 intervention and 5 correlational studies. Correlates of trail use were examined in 13 studies. Several demographic (eg, race, education, income) and environmental factors (eg, land-use mix and distance to trail) were related to trail use. Evidence from 31 descriptive studies identified several facilitators and barriers to trail use. Economic studies (n = 5) examining trails in terms of health or recreational outcomes found trails are cost-effective and produce significant economic benefits.
There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating important factors that should be considered in promoting trail use, yet the evidence for positive effects of trails on physical activity is limited. Further research is needed to evaluate the effects of trails on physical activity. In addition, trail studies that include children and youth, older adults, and racial and ethnic minorities are a research priority.
Starnes, Troped, and Klenosky are with the Dept of Health and Kinesiology, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN. Doehring is with the Dept of Exercise Science and Sport, Millikin University, Decatur, IL.