Access to Exercise Opportunities

Percentage of population with adequate access to locations for physical activity.

The 2022 County Health Rankings used data from 2010 & 2021 for this measure.

Reason for Ranking

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]

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 access to exercise opportunities if they:

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

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. 

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 or ESRI parks 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 2010 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, or 1 mile or less from recreational facility in urban census blocks and 3 miles or less in rural census blocks in 2019.

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 2010 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.

Data Source

Years of Data Used

2010 & 2021

Business Analyst, ESRI, YMCA & US Census Tigerline Files

These data files are combined in ArcGIS 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 ESRI public use GIS data provide geocoded, projected data on parks at the local, state and national level across the US. YMCA provides a national file identifying YMCA locations with opportunities for recreational activity. US Census Tigerline files 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.

Digging Deeper
Subcounty Area1

The data used to calculate the Rankings measure are not 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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When it comes to developing and implementing solutions to problems that affect communities, evidence matters. The strategies below give some ideas of ways communities can harness evidence to make a difference locally. You can learn more about these and other strategies in What Works for Health, which summarizes and rates evidence for policies, programs, and systems changes.

Establish a break from the school day, typically before lunch, that involves planned, inclusive, actively supervised games or activities; also called semi-structured, or structured recess
Offer group educational, social, creative, musical, or physical activities that promote social interactions, regular attendance, and community involvement among older adults
Offer exercise classes (e.g., aerobic dance, yoga, Tai Chi, cycling, etc.) and fitness program support in community, senior, fitness, and community wellness centers
Support a combination of land uses (e.g., residential, commercial, recreational) in development initiatives, often through zoning regulations or Smart Growth initiatives
Modify local environments to support physical activity, increase access to new or existing facilities for physical activity, or build new facilities
Arrange active transportation with a fixed route, designated stops, and pick up times when children can walk to school with adult chaperones

The County Health Rankings provide a snapshot of a community’s health and a starting point for investigating and discussing ways to improve health. Select a state and a measure below to see what’s happening locally.