Are McAllen, San Antonio and El Paso really better at exercising than Austin?

A runner uses the Boardwalk on Lady Bird Lake to exercise at dawn.
RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Apparently, we’re not as fit as we think here in Austin, despite those crowded trails and bustling gyms.

The Austin-Round Rock area comes in a disappointing 70th out of 189 U.S. communities in the “Rates of Regular Exercise” report, part of the Gallup-Sharecare State of American Well-Being series.

The study focuses on a single question: “In the last seven days, on how many days did you exercise for 30 or more minutes?” Those who reported exercising for 30 minutes or more, on three or more days in the previous week, were categorized as exercising “regularly.”

In the Austin area, 56.7 percent of those surveyed were categorized as regular exercisers. That’s slightly above the national average of 53.4 percent, the highest since Gallup and Sharecare began measuring in 2008.

That means more than half of respondents claimed they exercised for 30 minutes or more at least three days a week. Which seems a little optimistic, come to think of it.

Even more baffling, the Austin area finished behind three Texas communities usually more associated with high obesity rates than fitness – El Paso, 39th, McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, 40th, and San Antonio-New Braunfels, 65th. We did beat Dallas-Fort Worth, 77th, Corpus Christi, 93rd, Lubbuck, 126th, and Beaumont-Port Arthur, 150th.

Alissa Podber lifts weights at Hyde Park Gym Monday September 12, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Studies are odd. Depending on the focus, they show different results.

A study released earlier this year by WalletHub, which used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, listed the McAllen-Edinburg area as the fourth fattest city in the country (it also had the highest percentage of obese adults in the country.) San Antonio-New Braunfels came in 14th; El Paso was 22nd. Austin was 71st on that list.

What gives?

Maybe respondents aren’t answering truthfully. The Gallup-Sharecare study is based on more than 350,000 telephone interviews.

The Gallup-Sharecare study also looked at exercise rates by gender, age, income and race/ethnicity. It found that more males than females are regular exercisers, rates of regular exercisers fall as people age, Hispanics have higher rates of regular exercisers than Asians, whites or blacks, and rates of regular exercisers increase as income rises.

The city with the most regular exercisers? Boulder, Colorado. The city with the fewest? Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, North Carolina with 41.8 percent.

To see the full report, go here.

Five tips to help you keep your cool while hiking on a hot summer day

Hikers explore St. Edward’s Park in May 2016. Photo by Pam LeBlanc May 9 2016

 

Hiking in Central Texas lately feels like walking across a hot griddle with a blow torch aimed at your face.

That’s why Texas park rangers, who encounter lots of park visitors suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration, want to share some tips to keep hikers safe during the hot summer months.

Number one? Drink plenty of water. Hydration makes it easier to tolerate heat. Carry extra water and drink periodically, even if you don’t feel thirsty. And if you’re bringing your dog, make sure it has water, too. A good rule of thumb is to turn around and head back once you’ve consumed half of your water supply, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials say.

RELATED: Tired of the usual trails? Check out these less-known hiking gems.

Second, make sure you know how long the trail is before heading out. Hikers sometimes underestimate how long it will take them to hike a trail, especially when they’re tackling rugged terrain. Trail maps are available at the visitors center of all Texas State Parks, and online at the department’s website.

Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing when you hike during the summer. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

 

Third, plan hikes for early in the morning or in the evening, when it’s cooler and the sun isn’t as strong. Take frequent breaks and know your limit. Rest under shade when you can.

RELATED: Beautiful hiking trails, no crowds at Doeskin Ranch.

Fourth, wear appropriate clothing – light-colored, lightweight and loose-fitting clothing works best. A hat keeps your face shaded, and a bandana can be dipped in water and worn around the neck to keep you cool.

Finally, park rangers say, check the weather before you start your hike so you’re prepared for conditions on the trail.

If you start to experience a heat related emergency, call the park headquarters or 911.

Participants in the Best of Hill Country Hikes with Fit City series explore Pedernales Falls State Park. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

Beautiful hiking trails, no crowds at Doeskin Ranch

Cody Ackerman of the REI Outdoor School, left, helps Jean Bogardus across a creek. Pam LeBlanc/Austin American-Statesman
Cody Ackerman of the REI Outdoor School, left, helps Jean Bogardus across a creek. Pam LeBlanc/Austin American-Statesman

 

Looking for someplace to hike where you’re more likely to spot hawks and deer than other visitors?

Check out the Doeskin Ranch Unit of the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. I headed there this morning for the latest in the Best Hill Country Hikes with Fit City series, a collaboration with REI.

Several creeks flow through the preserve. Pam LeBlanc/Austin American-Statesman
Several creeks flow through the preserve. Pam LeBlanc/Austin American-Statesman

 

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Hikers gather at the trailhead at Doeskin Ranch. Pam LeBlanc/Austin American-Statesman

Our small group spent a few hours roaming the refuge, part of more than 25,000 acres set aside to protect habitat that’s important to endangered species, including the black-capped vireo and golden-cheeked warbler that nest here.

Cody Ackerman of REI’s Outdoor School in Austin led the excursion, sharing a bit of the property’s history and answering questions about the plants and animals that live in the area.

We headed out first on the short Creek Trail. We ambled past the ruins of an old log shed, a remnant of the land’s previous incarnation as a ranch. From there we hiked along the creek, marched like ants through fields of waving, rust-colored grasses and up a few easy switchbacks to a lookout point at the top of a ridge where we could see for miles into the Hill Country. Along the way we paused to inspect a garden of wooden boxes designed to serve as nesting boxes for bees.

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Wooden boxes provide refuge for bees. Pam LeBlanc/Austin American-Statesman

More than 5 miles of trails crisscross the Doeskin Ranch Unit, which is open from sunrise to sunset year round. (Trail runners take note; the terrain is perfect for a run.) The paths weave through prairie and woodland forest, along creeks, into an old oak forest and to the top of a plateau.

The land became a National Recreation Trail in 2005.

Want in on the next Fit City hike? The excursions start at 9 a.m. and last about two hours. Cost is $20 for members or $25 for non-members. Register here.

Here’s the upcoming schedule:

  • April 17 – Pedernales Falls State Park
  • May 15 – Wild Basin Preserve

If you go: Doeskin Ranch is on RR 1174. From Austin, take U.S. Highway 183 north to Highway 29. Head west, toward Liberty Hill, then turn south onto RR 1869. Travel about 10 miles, then turn left onto RR 1174. The parking lot is on your left. for more information about the Balcones Canyonlands, go here.

Take a hike with REI and Fit City

The Best of Hill Country Hikes with Fit City series resumes in January. Photo by Pam LeBlanc
The Best of Hill Country Hikes with Fit City series resumes in January. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

 

Want to explore some of the best hiking trails in Central Texas? Join me at one of the upcoming Best Hill Country Hikes with Fit City.

REI Outdoor School instructors lead the monthly guided walks. I tag along because I like to hike and want to meet other people who like outdoor adventure. Plus, I’d rather be out in the woods on a Monday morning than sitting at my desk working on a computer.

The two-hour hikes begin at 9 a.m. and wrap up by 11 a.m. Depending on the destination, a shuttle departs the downtown REI store at 601 N. Lamar between 30 minutes and an hour ahead of time.

Cost is $20 for REI members; $25 for nonmembers. To register or for more information, go to rei.com.

Here are upcoming dates and links to their registration pages:

National Park Service drops entry fees at parks on 10 days in 2017

Entrance fees will be waived at national parks including Big Bend National Park, shown here, for 10 days in 2017. Photo by Reine Wonite for National Park Service
Entrance fees will be waived at national parks including Big Bend National Park, shown here, for 10 days in 2017. Photo by Reine Wonite for National Park Service

 

Want to visit a national park for free?

The National Park Service has announced 10 days in 2017 when it will waive entrance fees for all visitors.

The free days are:

Pam LeBlanc takes in the view from the top of the South Rim Trail at Big Bend National Park. Photo by Chris LeBlanc
Pam LeBlanc takes in the view from the top of the South Rim Trail at Big Bend National Park. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

• Jan. 16, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

• Feb. 20, Presidents Day.

• April 15-16 and April 22-23, National Park Week weekends.

• Aug. 25, National Park Service birthday.

• Sept. 30, National Public Lands Day.

• Nov. 11-12, Veterans Day weekend.

The National Park System includes 413 sites including national parks, national historical parks, national monuments, national recreation areas, national battlefields and national seashores.Sixteen of those sites are in Texas. Read more about them here.

Entrance fees at 124 of the sites range from $3 to $30; entry is free to the other 289 sites.

The entrance fee waiver on the fee-free days does not cover user fees for camping, boat launches, transportation or special tours.

For more information go here.