How Parks Can Increase Your Physical Fitness

Researchers from Penn State University's Leisure Studies and Recreation and Parks Management programs recently sat down to compile data regarding the benefit of parks on people's health and exercise habits. Their findings? When people have ready access to parks and playgrounds, they're more likely to get regular exercise.

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The Research and Results

Dr. Geof Godbey and Dr. Andrew Mowen highlighted one study that found that a nominally increased investment in parks and recreation facilities can contribute to increased fitness in children.

The study prepared for the Naitonal Recreation and Park Association found that cities willing to invest an extra $10.00 per year, per person into their parks departments saw an increase in vigorous activity in girls and an increase in strength building activity in both boys and girls. Considering the fact that most youth are currently failing to meet physical activity guidelines, these increases are significant.

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It's not just the annual investment in parks and recreation facilities that pays off. Simply choosing a home within half a mile of a park can increase your average weekly physical activity. One cited study found that for every park within a half mile of your home, you're likely to receive 17 more minutes of physical activity each week. If you're surrounded by parks and recreation facilities, chances are you're pretty active and healthy.

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The study also noted that park use becomes ingrained into people's lifestyles. In a five year study following people's regular park use, 40 percent of individuals who admitted to accessing parks within the preceding year accessed them more than once a week. Considering that more than half of all adults currently don't receive regular exercise, this type of regular, consistent behavior should be encouraged.

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The Takeaway

Parks are great fun. Growing up I lived about two blocks from a huge park with a trail system, tennis courts, swimming pool and playground. My elementary school was another block away with three huge playgrounds, a soccer field, walking track, basketball courts and sand volleyball courts. I spent all summer, every summer playing outside in those parks. As an adult I continue to seek out parks, trails and playgrounds as a resource for exercise and physical activity.

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Unfortunately, just like schools shut down PE classes at the first sign of a budget shortfall, cities tend to shut down park departments for the same reason. Parks are often viewed as an amenity, an "extra," rather than a necessary resource for health and fitness. There are two essential things to takeaway from this research:

  1. When looking for a place to live, look for homes near parks and playgrounds in communities that strongly support the parks department. You and your family will be more likely to receive recommended levels of exercise.
  2. Become a parks and recreation advocate in your community. Show up for parks board meetings, volunteer at the recreation center and speak out when city administrators try to cut the annual parks budget; your efforts could help protect the help of those in your community.

More: How to Find Time to Exercise

There are a lot of worthwhile causes out there that you could dedicate time and energy to, but what could be more beneficial and fun than helping out in the parks?

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