Study finds improving local parks a key to increasing physical activity

Health researchers with Deakin’s Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research examined whether improvements to parks increased usage and park-based physical activity of users. They found significant increases in the number of visitors and levels of exercise undertaken at one park after the facilities had been upgraded.

“Parks are important places for people to spend their leisure time and be physically active,” explained Deakin health researcher Dr Jenny Veitch.

“Understanding how we can attract residents to spend time at local parks and encourage them to be more physically active is an important public health initiative. This is particularly the case in disadvantaged neighbourhoods where residents are at increased risk of being inactive which can lead to poor health.”

For the study, the researchers examined two parks in the same neighbourhood, one of which was about to be refurbished. Both parks were similar in size and mostly open spaces with few amenities. Upgrades to the one park included a fenced dog park, an all-abilities playground, walking track, barbeque area, landscaping and fencing. How many people used the parks and their levels of activity were monitored three months before the park improvements, three months after the improvements and one year later.

The results of the study point to the positive effect improving facilities can have on usage and the types of physical activity undertaken within local parks.

“We found that four times more people used the upgraded park a year after the changes, with more people walking and engaging in vigorous activities such as running or playing ball sports. While less people used the unchanged park and the activity levels remained pretty much the same,” Dr Veitch said.

“What our study has shown is that improving existing parks can encourage people to make use of the facilities and increase their levels of physical activity.

“The findings have implications for future park-renewal projects and can help urban planners and designers to develop parks that attract users and facilitate greater levels of physical activity.”

The results of this study are published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Deakin University