National Tourism & Travel Week – Travel Matters to Health

May 9, 2019

Contributed by Kevin Swanson
Deputy Director of the Miami County Park District
Board member of the Miami County Visitors & Convention Bureau.

Local park and recreation agencies provide crucial health and wellness benefits for all populations across the Country. The creation of parkland in the United States was originally rooted in community public health. Parks contribute to enhancing air and water quality, but additionally, provide spaces for relief from the stressors of everyday life. The Miami County Park District has 15 parks with open spaces available to visitors and residents just for this purpose. Our natural areas, historic sites, waterways, bikeways, and trails serve as a “go-to” resource for our community’s health and wellbeing. Research continues to show that visiting a park can influence the desire to adopt healthier lifestyles. Spending time outdoors immersed in green spaces is one of the fastest ways to improve your health and happiness. It’s been shown to lower stress, blood pressure, and heart rate while lifting the mood and mental well-being. A new study in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research shows that spending just 20 minutes in a park — even if you don’t exercise while you’re there — is enough to improve well-being. There seems to be many restorative properties associated with the influences of natural environments.

Over the last few decades, childhood chronic health conditions such as obesity, asthma, attention deficit disorder, and vitamin D deficiency have been on the rise. These conditions often lead to both physical and mental health problems in adulthood. Children are also spending less time engaged in outdoor, nature-based activities due to sedentary lifestyles, isolation and excessive screen time. The combined effect of these behaviors is having a damaging influence on the health of our youth. Agencies like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the CDC and the US Department of Health and Human Services are now recommending a variety of outdoor activities for children. They recommend being physically active for at least 60 minutes daily, having unstructured outdoor free time, and limiting screen time to 2 or fewer hours. The Miami County Park District has recently partnered with the local health community to promote the message about the correlation between physical activity outdoors and health. Physicians across the county will soon be prescribing nature, in a new Nature RX initiative. The aim of this program is to proactively challenge families with children to incorporate more outdoor activity into their daily routine for the sake of health and longevity far into adulthood.

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