Healthy living & Thriving
Ever wonder why you feel so much better after taking a stroll around the block or going for a hike? It’s because being outside in nature is good for us physically, emotionally, and mentally. Sure, exercise helps reduce stress. But even sitting while looking at images of nature is calming, according to inmates in Oregon’s Snake River Correctional Institution.
So, that’s great if you’re in solitary confinement, but what about the vast majority of us who are not in prison? We know that exercise is relaxing and good for us, and yet, we are not getting enough of it.
• A whopping 95 percent of adults in the United States don’t meet daily recommendations for physical activity, according to the Trust for Public Lands.
• And it’s not just adults: 92 percent of adolescents and 58 percent of children also fail to meet those recommendations.
Wait, it gets worse, especially for kids.
• More than one in three children in the United States is overweight or obese, with minority and low-income children disproportionately affected, according to the National Environmental Education Foundation.
• Every year, 3,600 children are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes for which obesity is a major risk factor.
• Recent school cut backs include slashing middle school sports in middle schools and less time on the playground in favor of academics. Children lost 25 percent of playtime and 50 percent of unstructured outdoor activity.
OK, so we all need more exercise.
How do we get people to get up and get moving?
We can start by providing more places for children to play.
Play is a natural way for children to exercise while learning social skills. Developmental learning is enhanced when physical skills are well developed. Children are more prepared to learn when they have had time to ‘run off their energy’. The risk of childhood obesity, diabetes, and other weight related illness can be reduced.
• Community parks, with active nature play areas, playground equipment, and open fields provide children access to safe places to exercise. Children living within 2/3 of a mile of a park with a playground can be five times more likely to have a healthy weight.
FACILITIES THAT FOSTER COMMUNITY BUILD HEALTH
Development of parks and open spaces is crucial to over- all community health. According to the Trust for Public Lands, the more parks a community has, the more people in that community exercise. People who live closer to parks exercise more, which reduces the impacts of aging, increases immune response, and provides social opportunities.
• Exposure to nature has been shown to reduce stress levels in children as much as 28 percent. Even a 20-minute walk in nature can help children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder concentrate better.
• A strong sense of community has been associated with improved wellbeing, increased feelings of safety and security, participation in community affairs and civic responsibility. High quality public spaces may be important settings for enhancing the sense of community for residents of new housing developments.
• The addition of high quality exercise equipment also inspires people to become more active even if residents don’t use the equipment, according to the Trust for Public Lands. Those who do get more fit, but those who don’t reported being inspired to become more active in other ways.
• Community gardens are an inexpensive way to get closer to nature – for the young, old and everyone in between. Research verifies that community gardeners and their children eat healthier diets than non-farming families. Produce from community gardens provides critical nutrition assistance for low income families, expanding food choices and decreasing budgets.
Springwater district concepts include working with current community agencies and business to expand existing programs for healthy recreation.
The recreational component to ‘parks and recreation’ becomes important if the community wants to fully reap the benefits of parks, trails, and green space investments.
• Residents are more likely to use parks that link to team sports, opportunities for learning through classes, or group exercise sessions. These have measurable health impacts.
• Recreational opportunities can help kids stay in school. The self-confidence and social skills learned on the field or through other productive activities not only decrease obesity and build life-long recreation and social skills, they provide many teens with a reason to stay engaged in school.
• Recreation helps teens avoid drugs, alcohol, and the lure of gangs. Youth that secure a sense of belonging and social support from a sports team or other recreational group may be better able to resist peer pressure to experiment. They may also be less likely to look for belonging or acceptance in unhealthy ways. Promiscuity, gang involvement, and drug or alcohol consumption are more likely to occur when kids are bored, unaffiliated, or unmonitored.
Green space, trails, and parks are the access to exercise that communities need to stay healthy. Exercise and activities help teens stay in school and avoid high-risk behavior. Exercise can be as effective as drugs in preventing chronic diseases. Parks with community gardens provide health benefits beyond being a way to get people to exercise. And just like those inmates at Oregon’s largest prison, people who live close to a park report better mental health — regardless of whether or not they exercise there. This can mean fewer trips to the doctor, pharmacist, or costly therapist. In short, parks inspire more exercise, which is good medicine, good for the waistline, and good for the entire community.