Access to exercise opportunities
Percentage of population with adequate access to locations for physical activity.
The 2021 County Health Rankings used data from 2010 & 2019 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.
Our 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 household 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.
Years of Data Used
2010 & 2019
Business Analyst, Delorme map data, ESRI, & 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 DeLorme Map Mart and ESRI public use GIS data provide geocoded, projected data on parks at the local, state and national level across the US. 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.
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. Active Living Research offers a selection of tools to help you assess your community’s support of physical activity.
 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.
 Sallis, James F., et al. "Distance between homes and exercise facilities related to frequency of exercise among San Diego residents." Public health reports105.2 (1990): 179.
 Cohen, Deborah A., et al. "Contribution of public parks to physical activity." American Journal of Public Health 97.3 (2007): 509-514.
 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, 178 (2018): 156.
 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. Prev Med, 78 (2015):17-22.
See how this component fits into our model
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.