Access to Exercise Opportunities

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Percentage of population with adequate access to locations for physical activity. The 2023 County Health Rankings used data from 2022 & 2020 for this measure.

Increased physical activity is associated with lower risks of type 2 diabetes, cancer, stroke, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and premature mortality, independent of obesity. The role of the built environment is important for encouraging physical activity. Individuals who live closer to sidewalks, parks, and gyms are more likely to exercise.1-3

Find strategies to address Access to Exercise Opportunities

Data and methods

Data Source

ArcGIS Business Analyst and Living Atlas of the World; YMCA; US Census TIGER/Line Shapefiles

These data files are combined in ArcGIS Pro to create the measure. The ArcGIS Business Analyst, for a fee (University of Wisconsin license), provides access to robust, integrated business intelligence, including corporate families, industries, key executives and financial data. The ArcGIS Living Atlas public use USA Parks data provides boundaries of National and State parks and forests, along with County, Regional and Local parks within the United States. The YMCA provides CHRR with a national file identifying YMCA locations with opportunities for physical activity. US Census TIGER/Line Shapefiles are spatial extracts from the Census Bureau's MAF/TIGER database, containing features such as roads, railroads, rivers, as well as legal and statistical geographic areas. The US Census 2020 tabulation blocks contain 2020 Census population and housing unit counts at the census block level. The 2020 Urban Areas were deliniated with data from the 2020 Census and represent densely developed territory, and encompass residential, commercial, and other non-residential urban land uses.

Key Measure Methods

Access to Exercise Opportunities is a percentage

Access to Exercise Opportunities measures the percentage of individuals in a county who live reasonably close to a location for physical activity. Locations for physical activity are defined as parks or recreational facilities. Individuals are considered to have adequate access to exercise opportunities if they:

• reside in a census block that is within a half mile of a park, or
• reside in a census block that is within one mile of a recreational facility in an urban area, or
• reside in a census block that is within three miles of a recreational facility in a rural area.

The method for calculating Access to Exercise Opportunities has changed

In 2018, County Health Rankings switched from using North American Information Classification System (NAICS) codes to Standard Industry Classification (SIC) codes due to lack of availability of a nationally reliable and updated data source. We strive to offer the most complete and up-to-date dataset of resources even though it may mean changes to our definition of recreation facilities.

In 2022, County Health Rankings stopped including the DeLorme map data in the numerator. The ESRI data source included most of these parks and is updated annually. 

In 2023, County Health Rankings switched from using 2010 census blocks and population counts to 2020 census blocks and population counts and used the new 2020 Census Urban Areas to assign urban/rural status to recreational facilities and YMCAs. 

Some data are suppressed

Counties are assigned a missing value when no locations for access to exercise have been identified in either the Business Analyst, USA Parks, or YMCA datasets. In contrast, counties are assigned a 0% when they have a location for access to exercise but the county population does not live within the defined buffers of that location. 

Measure limitations

The measure of Access to Exercise Opportunities is not inclusive of all exercise opportunities within a community. For instance, sidewalks, which serve as locations for running or walking; malls, which may have walking clubs; and schools, which may have gyms open to community members, are not able to be captured in the measure.

There are also limitations in defining access. Even if a census block contains a park, access to that park may be made difficult by entrance location, busy streets, or complex street designs. Access also applies to cost, which can be a barrier to accessing parks or recreational facilities that charge user or entry fees.

Finally, not all parks are equal, and not all walks are equal. Parks may or may not include vastly different amenities. And though distances used in this measure approximate a 5-10 minute walk to a park, this may be more or less reasonable for different communities based on their walkability and other factors. Research indicates that parkland is not always equitably resourced even within states or cities.4,5


The numerator is the total 2020 population living in census blocks with adequate access to at least one location for physical activity. Adequate access is defined as census blocks where the border is a half-mile or less from a park, 1 mile or less from a recreational facility in an urban area, or 3 miles or less from a recreational facility in a rural area in 2022.

Parks include local, state, and national parks. Recreational facilities include YMCAs as well as businesses including a wide variety of facilities such as gyms, community centers, dance studios and pools, identified by the following Standard Industry Classification (SIC) codes: 799101, 799102, 799103, 799106, 799107, 799108, 799109, 799110, 799111, 799112, 799201, 799701, 799702, 799703, 799704, 799707, 799711, 799717, 799723, 799901, 799908, 799958, 799969, 799971, 799984, or 799998.


The denominator is the 2020 resident county population.

Can This Measure Be Used to Track Progress

This measure is not appropriate for measuring progress. The data sources and definitions have changed over time, making them incomparable. We highly encourage using local data sources to track progress. One suggestion is to work with the city or county planning department to identify locations in your community that are used for physical activity and create your own measure.

Finding More Data

Disaggregation means breaking data down into smaller, meaningful subgroups. Disaggregated data are often broken down by characteristics of people or where they live. Disaggregated data can reveal inequalities that are otherwise hidden. These data can be disaggregated by:

  • Subcounty Area

Not all of the data used to calculate this Rankings measure are available publicly. However, there are several resources that might give you a clearer picture of opportunities for physical activity in your community. The Trust for Public Land's ParkScore® index is the most comprehensive rating system ever developed to measure how well the 100 largest U.S. cities are meeting the need for parks. The Walk Score site lets you insert any address and find the walkability of that location. For some places, it also provides a Transit Score (which measures access to public transit), and a Bike Score (which measures whether a location is good for biking). If you are working to improve physical activity in your community, it might be important to assess opportunities on your own. 


1 Babey SH, Wolstein J, Krumholz S, Robertson B, Diamant AL. Physical Activity, Park Access and Park Use among California Adolescents. Los Angeles, CA:UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. 2013.

2 Sallis JF, Hovell MF, Hofstetter CR, Elder JP, Caspersen CJ, Powell KE. Distance between homes and exercise facilities related to frequency of exercise among San Diego residents. Public Health Reports. 1990; 105(2): 179.

3 Cohen DA, McKenzie TL, Sehgal A, Williamson S, Golinelli D, Lurie N. Contribution of public parks to physical activity. American Journal of Public Health. 2007; 97(3): 509-514.

4 Rigolon A, Browning M, Jennings V. Inequities in the quality of urban park systems: An environmental justice investigation of cities in the United States. Landscape and urban planning. 2018; 178: 156.

5 Jones SA, Moore LV, Moore K, Zagorski M, Brines SJ, Diez Roux AV, Evenson KR. Disparities in physical activity resource availability in six US regions. Preventive Medicine, 2015; 78:17-22.

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