The State We’re In: Get Outside And Play – It’s Good For You!

Michele S. Byers

Michele S. Byers

by Michele S. Byers, executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation

Great news – we’re not couch potatoes after all!

A recent study by the Outdoor Foundation found that nearly half of all Americans ages six and over are physically active outside in the fresh air and sunshine.

In 2012, outdoor participants made an estimated 12.4 billion outings — up slightly from 2011. More than 141 million Americans headed to the great outdoors to exercise and commune with nature.

Running, jogging, fishing, bicycling, camping and hiking are the most popular activities for all age groups. They’re considered “gateway” activities that lead to a greater interest in the outdoors and a healthy lifestyle.

These findings are part of the foundation’s annual Outdoor Recreation Participation Report, which surveys more than 42,000 Americans to track trends in how we spend our leisure hours. The survey is designed to help public agencies, community groups and the recreation industry address the nation’s “inactivity crisis” and long-documented disconnect between children and the outdoors.

Other findings:

  • Almost a quarter of those who exercise outdoors do so at least twice a week.
  • Men are more likely than women to exercise outdoors, 55 to 45 percent.
  • The fastest-growing outdoor activities are “adventure racing” and off-road triathlons – rigorous competitions where simply finishing is a victory.
  • Stand-up paddling had the highest percentage of first-time participants.
  • Outdoor enthusiasts said their top motivations were getting exercise, being with family and friends, enjoying nature, staying fit, enjoying scenic beauty, and experiencing adventure and excitement.
  • Outdoor participants rate their health at an average of 7.3 on a one-to-10 point scale.

Not surprisingly, the report shows that the state of the economy impacts our participation in outdoor activities. Most survey respondents said they’re not planning to spend more on outdoor activities and equipment in 2013 than they did in 2012, and many said they’re spending nothing at all.

It is clear that there’s a continuing need for outdoor places close to home. Most gateway activities can be pursued inexpensively at public parks, nature preserves and recreation areas.

New Jersey, a national leader in preserving parks and natural areas, must continue saving land! Our state has the opportunity to ensure that every citizen can step out their door and find a nearby place for heart-pounding exertion … or nature’s peace and serenity.

So what’s stopping you? Get outside! And support the effort to establish a dedicated, long-term funding source for preserving more parks and natural areas.

To sign on to a letter asking the state Legislature for a dedicated source of preservation funding, go to the New Jersey Keep It Green website at To read the Outdoor Recreation Participation Report, go to

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at

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