Outdoor folks living in rural Maine have a grand opportunity to stay in good condition by fishing, hunting, hiking, backpacking, camping, bicycling, running and so forth on abundant, undeveloped land or on roads with less traffic. Residents in urban areas must deal with denser development that inhibits hunting and even fishing, and busy traffic may intimidate some hikers, pedalers and runners on roads.

Urbanites often travel much more to fish, hunt, hike and camp, and perhaps even to bicycle or run. The effort to find undeveloped land and roads with light traffic might lessen the will for urban folks to get out more often, but statistics from The Wall Street Journal may refute the notion that rural denizens exercise more in woods and water all around them – say hunting out the back door.

Rural Somerset County stretches from Fairfield to Jackman to the Aroostook County border, and 33.9 percent of that population ranks as obese – one in three residents. In heavily developed Cumberland County, obesity is 21.5 percent – about one in five. In short, more undeveloped woods for outdoor sports and less road traffic do not translate into slimmer citizens.

Unemployment in Somerset County is approaching 10 percent and in Cumberland County it’s a tad over 5 percent. When one person out of 10 does not have a job, that figure affects other family members, and financial problems can discourage a commitment to hobbies that offer exercise – even for fun activities such as hunting and, say, bicycling or walking.

Despite the Affordable Care Act, 13.6 percent of the people in Somerset County have no health insurance, compared to 11.1 percent in Cumberland County. (According to the article, the ACA did drop that no-insurance figure significantly.) No health insurance can cause families great stress because of the fear of a catastrophic health problem.

Having no insurance can be worrisome. I had no health insurance after my college graduation in mid-May to the beginning of a full-time job with a medical insurance plan in late August. Even at that young age, no insurance worried me in case of injuries from a motor-vehicle accident or a broken bone or injured back. A mishap could have cost me big.

Here are two statistics that highlight a problem for low-income folks. In Somerset, 16.7 percent suffer from food insecurity, but that figure drops to 14.1 percent in Cumberland. (That nearly 3 percent difference between the counties surprised me. I thought Somerset would be much more food insecure than the more affluent county.) Statistics show that low-income families eat meals rich in carbohydrates, because protein choices often cost more – say macaroni or spaghetti instead of steak or fish.

I noticed this point in my teens while working in supermarkets in Augusta. Back then, shoppers in new, expensive vehicles who dressed well bought fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, whole wheat bread, etc. Low-income shoppers with big families often bought junk food instead of more healthful choices, and newly introduced junk foods were generally hot sellers to the low-income group as soon as the items hit the shelves. One supermarket often had a white-bread sale – eight loaves for $1. Even in those days, that was dirt cheap and it was hard to keep the bread rack full.

In my youth before the mass introduction of four-wheel drives, ATVs, dirt bikes, etc., outdoor sports offered more exercise in the form of long woodland hikes to backwoods destinations such as deer swamps and remote trout ponds or brooks, but these days motor vehicles for woodland travel are common. Also, when fishing in boats and canoes during my youth, paddling and rowing were common. In fact, I never fished in a boat with an outboard until my very late teens and early 20s.

Outdoor sports can be as strenuous as each individual chooses, but those obesity statistics in Cumberland vs. Somerset counties show that despite the plethora of undeveloped woods and water with limited posting, folks still may not take advantage of outdoor resources.

Some outdoor sports just aren’t that physical, either. I love to fish for trout in small woodland brooks, which requires lots of quiet, slow walking, long periods of standing or sitting low next to pools and so forth. A day on a trout brook doesn’t exhaust me – that’s for sure. On the other hand, when the Kennebec River’s Shawmut Stretch was a topnotch place for brown and rainbow trout, wading in the thigh- to waist-deep water – particularly upstream – toughened me each spring. This cardiovascular exercise worked leg muscles and offered a great workout.

In short, outdoor folks have the opportunity to walk long distances, wade tough streams, paddle or row for miles, etc. If the outdoor crowd chooses these options, their health will be the better for that decision.

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at

[email protected]