Correlates of Recreational and Transportation Physical Activity Among Adults in a New England Community

Benefits studied:
Uses studied: ,
Place: Arlington


This study found that residents who live closer to rail-trails in Arlington, Massachusetts got an hour more exercise for transportation purposes each week. Proximity to the trails had no effect on the amount of exercise for recreation, suggesting the neighborhood trails in this community are mainly used for transportation purposes.


These findings can be applied in other suburban communities with similar demographics to estimate changes in residents’ commuting habits after a trail is built, and can be used in public health assessments (see 50 and 53). An important caveat, however, is that these findings are likely an upper bound estimate because people who are likely to use the trail are also likely to decide to live in those neighborhoods.


This study was based in Arlington, Massachusetts, population 42,952 in 2013. Arlington is a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts.

Trail Type

The study addressed neighborhood rail trails.


The purpose of the study is to identify which factors are most important in determining physical activity for recreation and for transportation. The study was supported by the Massachusetts Governor’s Committee on Physical Fitness and Sports, the Arlington Planning and Community Development Department, and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.


  • Respondents who lived a mile closer to the trail got approximately an hour (50%) more exercise for transportation purposes each week than respondents living an extra mile away from the trail.
  • Respondents’ distance to the trail had no effect on their physical activity for recreation.
  • Three quarters of respondents reported some physical activity for recreation in the previous four weeks. Two-thirds reported some physical activity for transportation.
  • On average, respondents in residential areas reported exercising 2.2 hours per week for recreation and transportation. Respondents who lived in mixed or commercial neighborhoods reported a similar amount of activity for recreation, but 30 minutes more for transportation.


The authors sent a mail survey to a random sample of residents 18 and older from across the community, not just those living closest to trails. Of the 1,002 surveys mailed, they received 413 usable surveys (47.9% response rate).

Respondents were asked to report frequency and duration of physical activity for recreation and transportation over the previous four weeks, demographics, and neighborhood characteristics (e.g., presence of sidewalks, crime). The authors measured the distance between the respondent’s home and the nearest rail-trail access point using GIS.

The authors used a statistical model to estimate how well demographics, neighborhood characteristics, and proximity to trails predict physical activity.


Troped, P., R. Saunders, R. Pate, B. Reininger, and C. Addy. 2003. “Correlates of Recreational and Transportation Physical Activity Among Adults in a New England Community.” Preventive Medicine 37(4): 304–310.