By, Diana Allen, Health Promotion and Healthy Parks Healthy People Chief and Anne O’Neill, Park Rx Coordinator, National Park Service
Preventable chronic disease afflicts many Americans and there is evidence that parks, nature, and open space can provide health benefits for those suffering from obesity, diabetes, and depression.
The National Park Service turns 100 on August 25, 2016, and all Americans are encouraged to use the full spectrum of national parks as solutions to current public health problems. Founders of park systems, such as Frederick Law Olmstead, knew that people needed nature and that “… the occasional contemplation of natural scenes… in connection with relief from ordinary cares, change of air and change of habits, is favorable to the health and vigor of (people)…”
Healthy Parks Healthy People and ParkRx are reframing the role of parks and public lands as a powerful health promotion strategy that can bring about lasting change in Americans’ lifestyle choices and their relationship with parks and the great outdoors. All parks ─ urban and wildland –are cornerstones of mental, physical, and spiritual health, and social well-being.
Healthy Parks Healthy People
Healthy Parks Healthy People is a global movement, adopted by the NPS in 2011 to make parks and programs “go-to resources for healthy living.” Parks are ideal places for people to learn about and practice healthy lifestyles, connect with nature and history, and relax in a setting removed from the distractions of daily life. Park settings provide access to nature and outdoor recreational experiences such as walking, hiking, bicycling, cross country skiing, paddling, and swimming; all activities that are associated with higher levels of physical activity, improved self-esteem, cognitive performance, immune function, mental health, stress relief, spiritual well-being, and an appreciation for the natural environment. Further, increasing access to parks can help reduce the disproportionate burden of health issues among vulnerable populations (youth, seniors, veterans), and among populations who tend to use parks infrequently (minorities, low income residents, individuals with disabilities).
Although Healthy Parks Healthy People is based within the National Park Service, the program works with national, state, and local parks, as well as business innovators, healthcare leaders, and advocacy organizations. Today more than 400 park-based health promotion projects have been documented in national parks. Half of these programs encourage walking, hiking, and other activities in the parks such as the “Tiger on the Trail” program at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Walk with a Doc programs at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, biking in battlefield parks, and yoga on the beach at the Outer Banks parks in North Carolina.
You can learn more on the National Park Service’s Healthy Parks Healthy People website, Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter feeds, and follow news and stories about the global movement on the Healthy Parks Healthy People Central website.
Park Rx is a global movement established to create healthier populations by strengthening the connection between the healthcare system and public lands. Park Rx programs use parks, trails, and open space for the purpose of improving chronic disease health outcomes, promoting wellness, and fostering environmental stewardship.
Park Rx programs give healthcare providers a new tool to encourage patients to take proactive steps to improve their health. Parks and public lands are free or low-cost resources in many communities and provide excellent areas to immerse oneself in nature, which has been shown to improve mental, physical, and social health. To date, over thirty park prescription programs have been documented across the country, including 14 efforts in national parks. The National Park Rx website, Facebook and Twitter sites provide information that cities and counties can use to develop and promote their own Park Rx programs.
On April 24, 2016, the National Park Service hosted the first National Park Rx Day in forty locations across the country. U.S. Surgeon General, VADM Vivek Murthy, participated in one of the main celebrations at Meridian Hill Park in Washington, D.C. Dr. Murthy spoke about how Park Rx builds upon his Step It Up! Campaign to promote walking outside in parks and creating walkable communities. National Park Rx Day will be celebrated annually during National Park Week. Next year, it will be held on Sunday, April 23, 2017. Local, regional, state, and national parks and other public lands are welcome to join the celebration. Health providers, public land managers, and community non-profits can utilize the NPS-CDC Parks, Trails, Health workbook and Park Rx communication templates to plan a National Park Rx Day event.
Celebrate the National Park Service’s Centennial and Find Your Park!
Visitors of all ages are invited to celebrate the National Park Service’s birthday by being active and healthy in national parks throughout August. With special events across the country, and free admission to all 412 national parks from August 25 through August 28, 2016, the National Park Service is encouraging everyone to #FindYourPark / #EncuentraTuParque!
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