By: Jamie Rae Walker, Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist-Urban Parks, The Texas A&M University System
Lack of physical activity not only hampers good health, but can also be a catalyst for developing chronic diseases. To improve overall health and combat obesity, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages individuals to increase their physical activity every day.
The CDC also studies how environmental influences that deter or promote human activity affect community health issues related to obesity. This research examines the role the built environment plays in impacting activity levels, particularly in communities that depend on automobiles rather than walking or biking to go from place to place.
Recreational and utilitarian activities influence physical activity rates, and park and park-like environments can support and encourage both. For utilitarian activities, greenways, linear parks, and trails can serve as connections that reinforce walking or riding a bike to community amenities and necessities such as stores, workplaces, and schools.
Parks that are not connectors can also help create active-friendly environments. Attractive parks located near residential areas serve as convenient and safe places where people can enjoy exercising. When asked where they prefer to walk or exercise within their communities, residents consistently list parks as a top choice.
Even as a destination, parks help people stay active. Once at the park, many individuals engage in sedentary behaviors, but most park users walk to get there. So, the desire to go to a park inadvertently generates physical activity.
Proximity and attractiveness are primary influences for designing parks to create active-friendly communities. Research indicates a clear relationship between residential proximity to parks and the likelihood of user groups such as seniors, youth, and adolescents using them.
As communities understand more about environmental factors that foster exercise, they need to assess whether the designs and locations of their parks support physical activity.
What Communities Can Do
- Engage in a community-mapping process to understand which parks residents use for physical activity.
- Conduct photo sampling to know which elements of local parks accommodate or discourage physical activity.
- Acquire, develop, and maintain parkland near neighborhoods and workplaces.
Relevant Extension Resources
For reading resources, visit the AgriLife Extension Bookstore at https://agrilifebookstore.org/
- Engaging Citizen Input on Parks: Getting Out of the Boardroom. Texas AgriLife Bookstore Publication ERPT-015
- Parkland Dedication Ordinances in Texas: A Missed Opportunity. Texas AgriLife Bookstore Publication EB-6242
Community Benefits and Repositioning: The Keys to Park and Recreation’s Future Viability. By J. L. Crompton. 2007. Ashburn, VA: National Recreation and Park Association.
“Correlates of Physical Activity in a National Sample of Girls and Boys in Grades 4 through 12.” By J. F. Sallis, J. J. Prochaska, W. C. Taylor, J. O. Hill, and J. C. Geraci. 1999. Health Psychology, 18(4), 410–415.
“Environmental Correlates of Physical Activity: A Review of Evidence about Parks and Recreation.” By A. T. Kaczynski and K. A. Henderson. 2007. Leisure Sciences, 29(4), 315–354.
Examining Physical Activity Infrastructure Importance Across the Lifespan. By J. T. Walker, L. C. Walker, J. R. Walker, A. R. Dotterweich, and J. Gould. 2013. Poster presented at Leisure Research Symposium, Houston, TX, October 9, 2013.
“Health, Supportive Environments, and the Reasonable Person Model.” By S. Kaplan and R. Kaplan. 2003. American Journal of Public Health, 93(9): 1484–1489.
“Increasing Walking: How Important is Distance To, Attractiveness, and Size of Public Open Space?” By B. Giles-Corti, M. H. Broomhall, M. Knuiman, C. Collins, K. Douglas, K. Ng, A. Lange, and R. J. Donovan. 2005. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 28(2, Supplement 2), 169–176.
“Linking Objectively Measured Physical Activity with Objectively Measured Urban Form.” By D. L. Frank, T. L. Schmid, J. F. Sallis, J. Chapman, and B. E. Saelens. 2005. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 28, 11–125.
Park Use and Physical Activity in a Sample of Public Parks in the City of Los Angeles. By D. Cohen, A. Sehgal, S. Williamson, R. Sturm, T. L. McKenzie, R. Lara, and N. Lurie. 2006. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.
“Physical Activity and Environment Research in the Health Field: Implications for Urban and Transportation Planning Practice and Research.” By C. Lee, and A. V. Moudon. 2004. Journal of Planning Literature, 19(2), 147–181.
“Places to Walk: Convenience and Regular Physical Activity.” By K. E. Powell, L. M. Martin, and P. P. Chowdhury. 2003. American Journal of Public Health, 93(9), 1519–1521.
“Policy Interventions to Increase Physical Activity.” By R. C. Brownson, T. Schmid, A. C. King, A. A. Eyler, M. M. Pratt, T. Murayi, J. P. Mayer, and D. R. Brown. 1997. American Journal of Health Promotion, 27, 263–266.
“Social-Cognitive and Perceived Environmental Influences Associated with Physical Activity in Older Australians.” By M. L. Booth, N. Owen, A. Bauman, O. Clavisi, and E. Leslie. 2000. Preventive Medicine, 31, 15–22.
State Indicator Report on Physical Activity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2010. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“The Relationship Between Convenience of Destinations and Walking Levels in Older Women.” By W. C. King, J. S. Brach, S. Belle, R. Killingsworth, M. Fenton, and A. M. Kriska. 2003. American Journal of Health Promotion, 18(1), 74–82.
“Use and Experience of Neighborhood Parks in Singapore.” By B. Youen. 1996. Journal of Leisure Research, 28(4), 293–311.
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