Recreation Management Rec Report - The Newsletter for Recreation, Sports & Fitness Facility Managers

Feature Story

March 2019

In Oregon, Outdoor Recreation Saves $1.4 Billion in Healthcare Costs

By Dave Ramont

Many studies telling have confirmed how beneficial exercise and spending time outdoors can be for our physical and mental health. And more often we’re seeing those benefits broken down into dollars and cents as well. Recently, a report released by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) revealed that the state saves $1.4 billion annually in healthcare costs due to Oregonians’ participation in outdoor recreation activities.

The report, “Health Benefits for Oregonians From their Outdoor Recreation Participation in Oregon,” considered how much energy people expend when participating in outdoor recreation. It then calculated the corresponding reduction in costs associated with chronic illnesses including several types of cancers, heart disease, stroke and diabetes, as well as depression and dementia.

The study estimated that energy equivalent to 144 million pounds of body fat was expended by Oregonians who engaged in outdoor recreation in 2017.

“The report demonstrates that park and recreation providers play a role in increasing the public health and well-being of Oregonians,” said OPRD Recreation Planner Terry Bergerson.

The report is a component of the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan. Randall Rosenberger, an applied economist with the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, was commissioned by OPRD to prepare the report. Data from a 2017 statewide survey that looked at outdoor recreation participation was utilized by Rosenberger and his research team. They then developed a method to quantify the “Cost of Illness” savings when people engage in 30 different outdoor activities, such as walking, hiking, paddling and skiing. Sports including soccer and tennis were also considered.

According to Rosenberger, results were consistent across the state. “When outdoor recreation is easily accessible, healthcare costs go down. How we design communities and transportation systems contributes to the health of Oregonians.”

Recreation activity at both statewide and county levels was provided in the report. Multnomah County, where Portland is situated, showed the largest Cost of Illness savings at $329 million, followed by Washington County ($234 million) and Marion County ($127 million). The study found that the total Cost of Illness savings tied to outdoor recreation is about 17 percent of total healthcare expenditures on treating chronic illnesses in the state.

The three activities that provided the largest healthcare savings included walking along local streets and sidewalks ($630 million); jogging and running along streets and sidewalks ($146 million); and walking on local trails and paths ($126 million).

The study also found that the average weekly minutes of outdoor recreation participation decline with age, from 509 minutes for 18- to 34-year-olds to 92 minutes for those 85 and older. Additionally, those with mostly sedentary jobs spent less time participating in non-work outdoor recreation (429 minutes) compared with those with active jobs (539 minutes).

OPRD Director Lisa Sumption said the findings are clear. “Communities with parks have more opportunities to become healthier communities. Every time we invest in parks, we’re investing in the well-being of Oregonians.”

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