US research shows record numbers taking part in outdoor exercise

By Tom Walker    06 Jul 2023

The number of people taking part in outdoor exercise and recreation in the US reached an all time record of 168.1 million in 2022 following year-on-year growth of 2.3 per cent.

The trend is reflected in activity across the physical activity sector, including health clubs and gyms, which are increasingly including elements of outdoor exercise – including retreats – in their programming.

A joint report, published by the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) and Outdoor Foundation (OF), shows that more than half (55 per cent) of the US population over the age of six now take part in outdoor activities.

The vast majority of of outdoor activity categories (80 per cent) experienced participation growth in 2022, including sport climbing and skateboarding, with trail running (5.9 per cent), cycling (6.5 per cent), surfing (6.5 per cent), climbing (6.6 per cent), scuba diving (7.3 per cent), windsurfing (7.3 per cent) and skiing (8.5 per cent) all up.

Snowshoeing showed exceptional growth at 20.7 per cent, which could be partly explained by its popularity in the children’s market (see below).

Outdoor pursuits are also attracting new crowds. According to the 2023 Outdoor Participation Trends Report, the participant base became more diverse in 2022 including increases in participation among black, Hispanic, and LGBTQIA+ people.

The Hispanic participation rate increased from 34 per cent in 2015 to 56 per cent in 2022, the highest participant growth rate for any single group.

In 2022, 61 per cent of LGBTQIA+ people of all genders participated in outdoor recreation. From 15.8 million in 2021, more than 18 million outdoor recreation participants identified as LGBTQIA+ in 2022.

Older people are more active outdoors as well. As recently as 2018, only 28 per cent of seniors (ages 55+) participated, but by 2022, the senior participation rate hit a record high of 35 per cent – the equivalent of one million more participants.

Hiking is the most popular outdoor activity, with 881,000 new participants in 2022, followed by running, cycling, fishing and camping.

Running has the highest average outings per participant at 54 per year. The average hiker heads to the trail six times per year.

Looking to future trends, the outdoor activity categories with the highest growth rates among children in 2022 were backpacking, snowshoeing, canoeing, climbing and off-road triathlon.

In spite of this growth, however, the number of outings per participant declined in 2022 for the first time since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

Americans made 11.8 billion outdoor recreation outings in 2022, but the frequency of participation is generally declining across outdoor recreation. In 2013, the average number of outings per participant was 84.6, while in 2022, it was down to 71.8 per participant.

Kent Ebersole, president of OIA, said: “Industry growth is dependent on attracting and retaining the ‘core’ and increasingly diverse ‘casual’ participant through innovation, valued sustainability practices and pursuing policies for increasing equitable access to the outdoors for everyone.”

Stephanie Maez, Outdoor Foundation’s executive director, added” “While the growth in ethnic and racial diversity in the participant base is encouraging, we must strive to do better across the board.

“Outdoor participation should reflect the diversity of the U.S. population overall and currently, it does not.”

The 2023 report reflects data gathered during the 2022 calendar year and garnered a total of 18,000 online interviews consisting of people ages six and older.

The OF is the philanthropic arm of OIA, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to getting more people active outside, more often.

Read the report here.

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