Berkeley Lab Research News banner Berkeley Lab logo
June 23, 2006

Online Fitness Tool Takes People on a Journey Across America

BERKELEY, CA — Want to walk across America without leaving your hometown? A scientist at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has launched an online exercise log that allows people to enter the number of miles they walk, run or cycle each day. The tool then tracks their progress as if they are traveling from Virginia to Oregon along the TransAmerica Trail.

Participants are rewarded with grand views as they exercise.

To entice even the most stubborn couch potatoes into action, the website also allows participants to enjoy the scenery along the way, thanks to images that depict every quarter-mile of the 4,025-mile route.

“There’s no lack of information about the benefits of exercise,” says Paul Williams, a staff scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Life Sciences Division who developed the tool. “What’s lacking is motivation.”

The website was developed for an ongoing exercise study, but it is available to anyone for free. It provides a calendar on which participants can enter their daily exercise mileage. They can also view the mountains, roadways, and vistas that mark the cross-country trek from Yorktown, VA to Florence, OR. For example, a participant who runs 5 miles today, walks 7 miles tomorrow, and cycles 14 miles the next day, will see pictures of the trail at 5, 12, and 26 miles. 

These images were collected with a video camera and a geopositioning receiver and were hand-picked to represent the best image of every quarter mile of the TransAmerica Trail. The trail, which is a system of back roads used by cyclists who wish to ride cross-country, was established in 1976 to celebrate the U.S. bicentennial.  

“With nearly 70 percent of the U.S. population having internet access, we have the technology to improve the overall fitness and health of the nation. However, technology is not enough. The trick now is to make it work,” says Williams.

The tool also allows participants to choose exercise partners among users with similar goals. Partners can be chosen by gender, age and type of exercise, and the progress of both partners can be plotted alongside one another on the course map. If desired, participants can be e-mailed whenever their exercise partner passes them, or if someone else chooses them as a partner. Users can even form teams among other participants and race across the U.S. in virtual relays. Users are identified by identification code only, which ensures anonymity. However, friends can become exercise partners if they share identification codes. 

Other features of the site include e-mails when participants fail to achieve their exercise goals and when they’ve gone too long without making an entry. An accomplishments page lists users who finish each state.

Interested people can log onto the website using their name and birth date, or they can use an identification code to protect their identity. Anonymity was chosen because the site is not a data collection tool, and because the researchers did not want users to feel obliged to disclose unnecessary information. All personal information collected on the site is confidential. There is no sharing of e-mail addresses with other groups.

The website was designed to help people reap the health benefits of physical activity. Current guidelines recommend that people get 30 minutes or more of at least moderate-intensity exercise such as brisk walking on most days of the week. In addition, one hour per day of exercise is needed to maintain a healthy weight. 

“Most people know they should exercise more, and those already exercising know they shouldn’t stop. But millions of Americans are inactive or don’t exercise regularly,” says Williams.

Williams’ research is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

Berkeley Lab is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory located in Berkeley, CA. It conducts unclassified scientific research and is managed by the University of California. Visit our website at