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Development and Promotion of Walking Trails

Program Highlights

Purpose: Designed to increase physical activity among sedentary individuals (2004).
Age: 19-39 Years (Young Adults), 40-65 Years (Adults), 65+ Years (Older Adults)
Sex: Female, Male
Race/Ethnicity: Black (not of Hispanic or Latino Origin), White (not of Hispanic or Latino Origin)
Program Focus: Behavior Modification
Population Focus: Sedentary People
Program Area: Physical Activity
Delivery Location: Other Settings
Community Type: Rural
Program Materials

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Despite the health benefits of physical activity, more than one quarter of the American population remains completely inactive.  Inactivity levels are especially high in rural areas.  Although walking is the most accessible and acceptable form of physical activity, rural areas often lack places to walk, including sidewalks and shopping malls.  Interventions that include the creation of walking trails and use an ecologic framework to address individual, community and environmental issues are needed. 
Development and Promotion of Walking Trails was designed to increase physical activity in rural communities, in part, through the creation of walking trails.  Developed with community input, the intervention includes eight individually-tailored newsletters (four examples are provided) that stress interpersonal activities and social support and advertise community-wide events, such as walk-a-thons and walking clubs.  The goal of the tailored newsletters is to provide positive reinforcement to those who walk regularly and motivational information and supportive resources for those who do no walk regularly.  In instances where trails are equipped with walking tracking systems, an individually tailored walking report can also be provided.
This program uses intervention approaches recommended by the Community Preventive Services Task Force: community-wide campaigns (Physical Activity) and creation of or enhanced access to places for physical activity combined with informational outreach programs (Physical Activity).
Delivery time varies because the intervention is self-administered.
Participants who tested this program were 18 years and older from rural Missouri; control participants were from similar communities in Arkansas and Tennessee.  Seventy-five percent of the participants were women in which 60% had a high school education or less.  Of the participants, 70% were White; 29% were Black; and 1% were classified as "Other".
The intervention is suitable for implementation in rural communities.
A slide presentation on how to create walking trails is required.  Four sample individually tailored newsletters, and two questionnaires (baseline and follow-up) are provided.  Costs associated with the program's implementation are not provided, but the program developer suggests that approximately $3,000 is required to build a walking trail.

Six intervention communities in rural Missouri and six comparison communities in Arkansas and Tennessee were matched according to size, proportion of population that was African American, and poverty level.  The research team worked with community health coalitions and local government to develop walking trails across the six intervention communities.  The first walking trail was completed in 1975 and the sixth trail was completed in 1997.  Most trails are located in residential parks within the city limits.  Trails vary in length from 0.13 miles to 2.38 miles.  At two trailheads, electronic devices were installed that allowed trail use to be monitored with infrared technology.  Using random digit-dialing, cross-sectional samples were selected from adults in the 12 participating communities to complete baseline surveys. Participants in the intervention communities then received a series of eight (four samples are provided) newsletters tailored to the responses from their survey and in cases where trail-use data was available from the monitored trail heads, the newsletters reported the number and length of recent visits to the trail.  All participants were post-tested approximately one year after baseline.

Results indicated:

  • Between intervention and control communities, no differences were observed in minutes walked in the past week or minutes walked for exercise in the past week.
  • Among people who used the trails at baseline (17%), 32% increased their physical activity since they began using the trail.
  • In the current study, 17% of intervention community residents reported using a walking trail, compared with 8% in 1998.

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Updated: 08/30/2011