Park It

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Volume 15, Number 5

Anecdotally, most people would say that going to a park is typically a pleasant experience. The fact that urban areas continue to prioritize having green spaces with trees and other vegetation, even in locations where the real estate may be desirable for other purposes, is a testament to this. A number of studies have been published that report stress reduction, less anxiety, and a greater sense of well-being associated with spending time in a park. There is also some evidence that the benefits of physical activity are enhanced when exercise is done in park settings, at least with respect to feelings of well-being.

Several months ago, investigators from the University of Alabama published a study in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research in which they tried to further specify the factors that contribute to benefits that come from spending time in a park. The study was conducted in three parks in the greater Birmingham area. Park visitors agreeing to participate in the study completed a brief questionnaire upon arriving at a park, wore an accelerometer (to detect and track movement) while in the park, and then again completed a brief questionnaire when leaving the park. In addition to some demographic questions, the questionnaire measured subjective well-being by combining results from the Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS) and the Positive Affect and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS). Data were obtained from 94 park visitors.

Approximately 60% of the participants had higher well-being scores at the conclusion of the park visit. More time spent in the park was positively associated with greater increases in well-being. Spending at least 20 minutes in the park was found to be predictive of experiencing an increase in well-being; those spending less than 20 minutes were more likely to report no change in their subjective well-being as a result of the park visit.

Thirty percent of park visitors had moderate intensity physical activity, defined as three or more metabolic equivalents (METS). More generally it was found that more time spent in the park was associated with more steps recorded.

Results of this study were certainly not surprising, but can be a good reminder to visit the parks readily available in one’s community. Park visits are natural opportunities for some physical activity and some stress reduction, particularly if one spends at least 20 minutes there.

Paul J. Hershberger, Ph.D.

… is a clinical health psychologist. He is Professor, Director of Research, and Director of the Division of Behavioral Health, Department of Family Medicine, Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine.


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