Whether playing Frisbee, shooting hoops, or simply flying high on the swings, a trek to the local public park is a fun, no-cost family activity. In fact, a recent study shows that living close to a public park may even positively influence your teen's physical activity level.
In a nationwide study, 1,556 sixth-grade girls wore accelerometers, devices used to measure the amount and intensity of exercise performed, for 6 days. The accelerometers measured exercise for both school and non-school hours. In addition, researchers mapped out all of the parks within 1 mile of each girl's home and noted the amenities at each facility, such as restrooms, playgrounds, and basketball courts.
Many of the girls in the study had access to local parks — 57% of the girls had one or more neighborhood or community parks nearby; 42% had between one and three parks; 37% had four or more parks; and 14% had eight or more parks.
Each park within a half-mile of a girl's home meant a nearly 3% increase — about 17 minutes — in her moderate to vigorous physical activity time over the course of 6 days. Having access to more parks affected activity levels for the better. Girls who had 3.5 parks within a 1-mile radius of home got an average 36.5 extra minutes of exercise in 6 days. Living close to parks with walking paths, running tracks, playgrounds, and basketball courts, as well as parks with streetlights and floodlights, was also associated with increases in physical activity.
What This Means to You
For kids and teens who can't drive, public parks offer a place to meet and play with friends. The results of this study indicate that proximity to parks, especially those that encourage walking, running, and active sports like basketball, positively influences physical activity level. If you're not sure where public parks are in your area, your local parks and recreation department (check the government pages of your phone book) may publish or provide lists of public parks in your area. To encourage your child to be active, try visiting a new local park each week.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: December 2006
Source: Deborah A. Cohen, MD, MPH; J. Scott Ashwood, MA; Molly M. Scott, MPP; Adrian Overton, MPA; Kelly R. Evenson, PhD; Lisa K. Staten, PhD; Dwayne Porter, PhD; Thomas L. McKenzie, PhD; Diane Catellier, DrPH; Pediatrics, November 2006.