Tag Archives: National Park Service

Program taps public lands to improve public health

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

This week, National Park Service brass took to California to push its new Healthy Parks, Healthy People initiative.

Visitors walk between Mather Point and Yavapai Observation Station at Grand Canyon National Park. Photo: P. Mike Quinn, NPS

You can get the details from the Marin Independent Journal‘s Mark Prado (or this NPS release). The meetings were dedicated to realizing the potential of what NPS director Jon Jarvis called “a major untapped source of public health.”

“Public health pretty much has been confined to the discussion around new pharmaceuticals or modern medicine,” Jarvis said. “But studies are showing there are unique benefits in getting outside and getting active. Being outdoors can have a positive effect on everything from stress to attention disorders to healing.”

Jarvis added that, while “Our national parks have always been loved for their symbolism and scenery,” now “we aim to increase the awareness of all parks as places for exercise and healthy living.” His remarks are now available for review online.

Video streaming by Ustream

Prado writes that the efforts are being modeled partly on a successful program in Australia, where “the parks have a website that provides information on the latest international research, innovations and programs that focus on the health benefits of human contact with the natural world.” For more on Australia’s pioneering “Healthy Parks Healthy People” initiative, created by Parks Victoria, see the Parks Australia website.

The American initiative includes not only the nation’s flagship national parks, but to a variety of public lands, many of them within easy reach of urban and suburban areas. It’s a chance to highlight public lands in your coverage area and explore current research into the health benefits of the great outdoors. Of course, if Congress doesn’t come to an agreement on the budget and the federal government is shut down, the National Park Services’ 394 sites will be closed.

For more details from the meetings and resulting discussions, I recommend quickly browsing the #hphpUS hashtag.

The latest trend in medicine? Outdoor exercise

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Writing for The Washington Post, physician and University of California, San Francisco, medical professor Daphne Miller makes a strong case for what she calls a growing trend: Doctors prescribing outdoor exercise for their patients. After seeing how the lure of the outdoors can motivate those who can’t stand the sight of another treadmill or stationary trainer, Miller has started handing out detailed “park prescriptions” that direct her patients to specific parks and trails. It’s a practice she says colleagues across the country are adopting.

Tolay Lake Regional Park in Sonoma County, Calif. Photo by ultralightly via Flickr.

Eleanor Kennedy, a cardiologist in Little Rock, helped create a downtown “Medical Mile” with the support of local funders and the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program. “If my patients feel that they can get outdoors, they are more likely to be consistent about exercise,” she told me. “Whether you are waddling, walking or running, going out and exercising will help build your confidence, flexibility and adaptability.” And it will also be good for your heart — a particular benefit in Arkansas, where rates of heart disease and stroke, as well as obesity and diabetes, are among the highest in the country.

Folks on the park side of the equation are no less thrilled about the rediscovered mental and physical health benefits of the outdoors; National Park Service officials are hoping to prepare a “park prescription” tool kit for doctors and local parks and health organizations are starting to cooperate across the country.

The NPS’s Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program has projects in nearly every state and provides a state-by-state breakdown of the projects that might help reporters localize this story.