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Step it up outdoors

Posted on by Brittany Curtis, Health Communications Specialist, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity

Mother and father swinging daughter outdoors

Physical activity can improve your health. People who are physically active tend to live longer and have lower risk for heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, and some cancers. Physical activity can also help with weight control, and may improve academic achievement in students. Walking is an easy way to start and maintain a physically active lifestyle, and parks are a great place to start.

Physical activity made easy

People of all abilities can benefit from safe and convenient places to walk, run, bike, skate, or use wheelchairs. The decision to walk is personal, but that decision is easier if community walkability is improved. It is important to connect places that people regularly use with sidewalks or paths that are safe and attractive, especially between schools, worksites, parks, recreational facilities that are within walkable distance of each other.

A walk in the parkThe community of West Wabasso, Florida, worked with the Indian River County Health Department and other government agencies to create safe public places for walking, exercise, and play. The project established bus routes, installed streetlights and sidewalks, and improved local parks. Residents filled out a survey about the changes to their community. Ninety-five percent of respondents said they spent more time exercising outside than they had 2 years earlier. They said the changes to their neighborhood, especially the streetlights and creation of safe places to exercise and walk outside, made a big difference.

Less than 40% of people in the United States live within one-half mile of a park boundary, and only 55% of youth have access to parks or playgrounds, recreation centers, and sidewalks in their neighborhoods. However, there is evidence that people with more access to green environments, like parks and recreation areas, tend to walk more than those with limited access. Well-designed parks and trails can promote physical activity and community interaction and provide mental health benefits, such as reduced stress.

Design matters

To help people be active, parks and recreation spaces can offer opportunities for various types of activity, such as walking, hiking and team sports. Programs can be designed to attract a wide range of visitors—age groups, cultures, and ability levels—throughout the year. Park programs can also help participants address barriers to physical activity, including physical limitations and safety concerns. Walking groups or buddy systems can help provide people with multiple opportunities to walk each week. Park entrances with universal access for multiple types of active transportation can promote biking and walking to and from the park.

In September 2015, the Office of the Surgeon General in the US Department of Health and Human Services released Step It Up! The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities (the Call to Action) to recognize walking as an important way to promote physical activity among most people. The Call to Action is intended to increase walking across the United States by calling for improved access to safe and convenient places to walk and wheelchair roll, as well as a culture that supports these activities for all ages and abilities.

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Posted on by Brittany Curtis, Health Communications Specialist, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and ObesityTags , , , , , , , ,

5 comments on “Step it up outdoors”

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    This seems like a very urban-centric article… to assume that because someone doesn’t have access to a “park, playground, recreation center, or sidewalk”, or that they don’t live within a half mile of a “park boundary”, they are somehow limited in terms of possibilities for outdoor recreation, is bunk. Certainly this is true (and a concern) for those living in big cities – but that’s not a representative sample of Americans by a long stretch.

    Physical activity is so important. No matter what the situation there are so many ways to and different things to make it happen.

    I disagree with Todd that those living in big cities are “not a representative sample of Americans by a long stretch.” According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 71.2 percent of the U.S. population lived in urban areas as of the 2010 Census, a boost from the 79 percent counted in 2000. The Bureau defines urban areas as “densely developed residential, commercial and other nonresidential areas of 50,000 or more people .” Another 9.5 percent live in urban clusters.

    How can I get help with getting my community Revitalized? My housing community has been there for a total of 6yrs and they are constantly building more new homes. However, they are doing nothing to revitalize the area or the shopping center, stores, restaurants, etc.

    As a state employee in public health, I often wonder how we as an Agency can impact individual’s personal choices to improve health. In the wake of controversy over the possibility of diminished health care coverage, the time to take steps to affect one’s health decisions is NOW! Prioritizing physical activity as a stepping stone to improved health provides the foundation upon which to enhance prevention and intervention to affect mental, physical, and emotional health and reverse the trends of sedentary lifestyles in adults and children. Additionally, it would institute possible cultural changes where combined efforts between local health department program and clinical staff in communities and our patient population could take steps towards a social and environmental revolution for healthy changes. It is estimated that 6-10% of deaths from coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancers such as breast and colon were the result of physical inactivity. Of the deaths that occurred worldwide in 2008, 9% were attributed to inactivity which equates to 5.3 of the 57 million premature mortalities (Das & Horton, 2012).

    To improve community awareness of the importance of physical activity for improved health outcomes requires both educational outreach and program planning. Health organizations and schools have the ability to reach large populations to communicate the benefits and to encourage and motivate people of all ages to participate. Many schools have designated “walk to school” and “ride your bike to school” day. Why not encourage school districts to support this activity on a daily basis and create awards based on documentation of individual achievements? Holding health fairs in school settings, after hours or on weekends that are open to the public is another way to involve all ages: children, adults, and senior citizens. Offering activities and having representatives from organized events such as the March of Dimes Walk for Babies, Susan Komen Walk/Run, and local running and walking clubs with the Department of Parks and Recreation coordinating training sessions with the school district physical education departments that are open to all will provide instruction in training, goal setting, and monitoring self-progress. Weekly progress meetings, in the schools, to review achievements and encourage long-term commitment to changing lifestyles could improve health outcomes, decrease chronic illness, and enhance one’s quality of life. Monthly meetings with the appointed leaders from the health organizations, schools, community councils, and department of parks and recreation would provide opportunities to brainstorm and grow community efforts to help citizens gain confidence in their ability, remove barriers, and provide enjoyment for physical activity (Pate et al., 1995).

    Tags: chronic disease, physical activity, mental health, physical health, emotional health, improved health

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