Should You Put Parks in your Life?
by Nancy Bruning, MPH on November 3rd, 2012

We are all pretty clear that physical activity is good for us, whether we are preventing or managing cancer—or any other chronic disease. And if you’ve been reading this blog, you know that being in nature is also a health plus. If you have any doubts that the environment in which you exercise can make a difference, listen to this: Recently, a team of scientists collected and summarized what we know about how access to parks, trails, open spaces, and recreational facilities can help improve our health, including our weight. The lead author of the article “Let’s Go to the Park Today: The Role of Parks in Obesity Prevention and Improving the Public’s Health” is Heidi M. Blanck, Ph.D, who is with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
 
Let’s see if any of these health benefits might be of interest to a woman undergoing breast cancer treatment.
 
Here’s an excerpt:
 
“Spending time in nature has been linked to several health benefits, including reduction in attentional fatigue, and … running in a park fostered more psychological restoration than did running in an urban environment. Walking in a natural setting has also been shown to alleviate symptoms of mental fatigue more than walking in an urban environment. Nearby nature has been shown to enhance children’s psychological health, and other data suggest that the presence of nearby nature buffers the impact of life stress on rural children and enhances self-worth. Green outdoor activities and greener play areas have also been shown to attenuate attention deficit disorder symptoms and improve concentration."
 
Hmmm ... let’s see …
  • mental fatigue 
  • psychological restoration
  • stress buffer 
  • enhances self-worth 
  • improves concentration

Sounds pretty good.
 
And yet, when was the last time anyone on your health care team suggest a walk in a park or garden, or along a trail?
 
Further, the authors write that, 
 
“Preliminary evidence also suggests that using parks, playgrounds, and recreation centers may lead to other healthy lifestyle choices, such as using modes of active transportation—like biking or walking to a park location." That's the cherry on top: walking or biking to a park counts! 
 
So, if you’ve been trying to be more active, but somehow haven’t found anything appealing to you, or nothing seems to fit into your schedule, don’t beat yourself up about it. Maybe you just haven’t found the right thing. Consider switching to something outdoors. It doesn’t have to be fancy; just a walk, perhaps with a friend or two, and why not add some feel-good stretches?
 
The article was published in CHILDHOOD OBESITY, October 2012, Volume 8, Number 5. Here’s a link to the abstract: http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/chi.2012.0085.blan
 (Unfortunately, you need to pay a fee to obtain the whole article.) 

Note: Check with your health care provider for any caveats to being in nature; for example, you might be taking medication that makes you more sensitive to the sun. And, if you don't feel quite up to venturing out-of-doors, you can create a resonable facsimle by surrounding yourself with plants and other natural objects in your home or office.

Nancy Bruning is a personal trainer and group fitness leader, author of 26 books on health and fitness, with a master’s degree in public health. She has discovered the double benefits of exercising while outdoors and created Nancercize to help others get double benefits too. Her most recent book is "Nancercize: 101 Things to Do on a Park Bench." To see a free video of outdoor exercises and find out more, visit www.Nancercize.net and www.facebook.com/nancercize.


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