The Doctor (and Ranger) Will See You Now

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Guest Post from the Institute at the Golden Gate

In the past decade, rates of obesity and associated chronic diseases have skyrocketed in children and adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) documents that more than one-third of adults in the United States—more than 72 million people—are considered medically obese and therefore more likely to develop major chronic diseases such as type-2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Lack of physical activity and poor diet has been established as the causes of an unhealthy, overweight nation. The CDC estimates that more than 40 percent of the U.S. population is sedentary.

The epidemics that result from an indoor, sedentary lifestyle require action from all sectors of society. Parks and public lands are an underutilized, low-cost healthcare resource that can and must be used to help solve the problem. There is a growing consensus that nature has many health benefits, from increased physical activity to mental, emotional, and community health benefits.  Here in the San Francisco Bay Area we help convene an initiative called Healthy Parks, Healthy People: Bay Area (HPHP: Bay Area) that fulfills a clear need to increase access to parks and develop them as health resources for the whole family—especially those in the highest health need communities.

Photo courtesy of Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

The HPHP: Bay Area coalition comprises of over 40 park, health, and community agencies representing residents throughout the nine counties of the San Francisco Bay Area region. The collaborative aims to improve the health and wellbeing of all Bay Area residents, especially those with the highest health needs, through regular use and enjoyment of parks. Park agencies now offer monthly programs and outings that introduce residents to safe, low-impact walking, and physical activity in nature. Health and social service providers refer their patients (particularly those who’ve been physically and/or socially inactive) to these regularly scheduled programs in every Bay Area county. In the last year alone park agencies around the Bay Area have put on over 100 health focused programs at 35 unique parks, and on average attract over 75 new users each month.

Being active outside is a small but powerful change you can make to improve your health and well-being. Are you working with your parks to get your community active yet? Learn how to improve the health of your community through regular use and enjoyment of parks and public lands at http://instituteatgoldengate.org/health.

See you in the parks!

Kristin Wheeler

Program Manager, Institute at the Golden Gate

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