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.

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


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.

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.