Public parks – an underutilized potential health perk

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Our public parks across the United States are one of its best resources for getting physically fit yet so few Americans utilize their access.

A 2016 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that out of the 108,000 neighborhood public parks, many are not being used to their full potential.  Older adults and females in particular are not taking advantage of what parks have to offer missing opportunities to engage in more physical activities. 

The study showed that changes could be made to attract older people and females by creating more walking loops, fitness zones, and exercise areas.  Doing so could help benefit many more adults who are already not as physically fit as they should be which increases the rate of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

It was not certain if the reason for the lack of use of public parks had to do with location, safety or not offering enough supervised activities. 

Another recent 2016 study published in PlOS One echoed the same suggestions that parks are linked to multiple aspects of health and well-being in cities improving the quality of life.

The health perks of public parks

There is strong evidence showing when people have access to parks, they are more likely to experience better health and well-being.  When access to public green spaces is lacking, many people often go without exercise.  This is especially true of low-income neighborhoods where the residents often cannot afford gym memberships.  Living within the vicinity of a public park often is a key determinant in avoiding obesity and maintaining health, both physical and mental.  Here’s why:

·         Exposure to nature and greenery makes people healthier

A study once showed that recovery of surgical patients who had a view of trees had shorter hospitalizations, less need for pain killers and fewer negative comments in the nurses’ notes when compared to surgical patients with a view of a brick wall.

When we have daily exposure to nature our psychological health is improved with feelings of more tranquility, relaxation and less feelings of anger and anxiety.

·         Therapy for attention deficit disorder

Children with ADD are better able to concentrate on schoolwork and similar tasks when they have opportunities to take part in activities in open green spaces like a park. 

·         Exposure to nature promotes coping and healing

When individuals have a view of trees, grass or flowers they report less mental fatigue, less     procrastination in dealing with life issues, and feeling that their problems were less severe and more solvable than those with no views of nature. 

·         Parks promote the social health of communities

Public parks provide a gathering place for its residents to participate in making the neighborhoods more livable.  City parks offer opportunities for recreation and exercise and provide a sense of community.  Residents who live near a green space are more likely to have stronger social ties than those surrounded by barren concrete.  

·         Parks promote physical fitness

A well-laid out park should have enough green space areas for playing games of Frisbee, baseball or other vigorous activities as well as walking and/or bike trails.  These designs encourage and create opportunities for individuals, young and old, to enjoy being in the outdoors and becoming healthy by promoting physical fitness.

For more information on making parks an integral part of the community you live in, visit www.nrpa.org.

 For those of you interested in the magnificent beauty of the national parks across the United States, visit www.nationalparks.org