Health Benefits of Outdoor Recreation in Oregon

This site provides public access to the Oregon Outdoor Recreation Health Impacts Estimator Tool (OR Estimator Tool) developed at Oregon State University in collaboration with Oregon Parks and Recreation Department and the Oregon Health Authority. The OR Tool was used to estimate the health benefits of Oregonians participating in 30 outdoor recreation activities of moderate- to vigorous-intensity as part of the 2019-2023 Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Planning project.

The OR Estimator Tool is built on the base of the Integrated Transport and Health Impact Model (ITHIM), which was calibrated to Oregon’s county-specific health information and population distributions in the Transportation Options Health Impact Estimator (TO Estimator). We adapted the TO Estimator by integrating outdoor recreation participation data by urban / rural status from the 2017 Oregon Resident Outdoor Recreation Survey and MET-values from the Ainsworth Compendium. ITHIM is a comprehensive health impact assessment model that uses comparative risk assessment to quantify the estimated change in life expectancy and quality of life for a population due to changes in active transportation participation. ITHIM’s physical activity pathway estimates health effects based on quantified relationships (dose-response functions) between physical activity (i.e., walking and cycling active transportation) and chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some cancers. These estimated health effects are then converted into monetary units via Cost of Illness (COI) savings meta-analysis function. These COI estimates include disease-specific direct treatment costs and lost productivity costs.

This project estimates that adult Oregonians engaged in the 31 outdoor recreation activities included in the OR Estimator Tool participated on 794 million user occasions and expended 503 billion kcals of energy (this is equivalent to oxidizing 144 million pounds of body fat that would fill 29.5 Olympic-sized swimming pools). Oregonians also realized $1.416 billion in COI savings associated with eight chronic illnesses affected by physical activity. These cost savings accrue to health insurers, providers, and participants. COI savings is approximately 2-3.6% of total health care expenditures in the state including 9-17% of expenditures in treating cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes, and depression. These estimates are conservative and underestimate the total health benefits derived from physical activity because they do not include impacts on other illnesses and diseases, avoided deaths, or other activities, along with the use of conservative modeling assumptions.