Access to Exercise Opportunities

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Percentage of population with adequate access to locations for physical activity. The 2024 Annual Data Release used data from 2023, 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

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Data and methods

Data Source

ArcGIS Business Analyst and ArcGIS Online; 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 Online 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. U.S. 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 U.S. Census 2020 tabulation blocks contain 2020 Census population and housing unit counts at the census block level. The 2020 Urban Areas were delineated 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

With the 2018 Annual Data Release, we 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. 

With the 2022 Annual Data Release, we stopped including the DeLorme map data in the numerator. The ESRI data source included most of these parks and is updated annually. 

With the 2023 Annual Data Release, we 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 exercise have been identified in the Business Analyst, USA Parks, and YMCA datasets. In contrast, counties are assigned a 0% when they have a location exercise identified but the county residents do not live within the defined buffers of that location. 

Caution should be used when comparing these estimates across years

Data should not be compared across all years that are available due to methods changes described in the “The method for calculating Access to Exercise Opportunities has changed” section. 

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 represented in this 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. Costs can also introduce barriers 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 house very different amenities, and although distances used in this measure approximate a 5-10 minute walk to a park, this distance may be more or less reasonable based on community walkability and other factors. Research indicates that park land 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.

Parks include local, state, and national parks. Recreational facilities include YMCAs as well as businesses including a wide variety of facilities such as gyms, golf courses, tennis courts 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 because the data sources and definitions have changed over time. We encourage the use of local data sources to track progress. City or county planning departments may be able to help identify locations in your community that can be used for physical activity.

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 measure are publicly available. 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.

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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