By Rachel Banner and Karen Soohoo, NRPA
“In a world that is becoming increasingly virtual, the parks remain places of visceral beauty. Places where we can remember that we are but a small part of the life on this planet, and that is a truly wonderful planet and the only one we’ve got.” — mystery author Nevada Barr
For those of us who have the opportunity to connect with this natural world that Barr describes so eloquently, one can understand that walks in the outdoors are truly restorative to our mental and physical health. And yet we must remind ourselves in these times of technology overload to pause and take time for #Outdoor Walks. But for those of us in communities or places in life with limited access and/or knowledge of the beautiful places to be outdoors and take a walk it is vitally important that we as a nation ensure everyone has the opportunity to access the natural world.
At the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) our mission is connect communities and promote the health benefits of parks to all people. That is why NRPA is proud to support the Every Body Walk! Collaborative’s mission of bringing back walking as a cultural norm in America and July’s theme, “The Power of Nature”. Through both conservation and health focused initiatives such as Healthy Aging in Parks, Wildlife Explorers, and Safe Routes to Parks, NRPA is making #OutdoorWalks more accessible and fun for all ages.
In an effort to connect urban children to the natural wonders right outside their doors, NRPA’s Wildlife Explorers program helps foster an appreciation of nature by encouraging them to walk through their local park to explore the outdoors. Through this program, hundreds of kids who have never been to a park before now visit parks on a regular basis.
NRPA’s Healthy Aging in Parks campaign is helping our older Americans to feel confident by walking to stay healthy. After participating in the evidence based Walk with Ease program, a participant from Shelbyville, Tennessee said “I am feeling so good…and I was able to keep up with [my sisters] and have fun, instead of having to sit on a bench to rest”. Using local parks as their backdrop, these older Americans are getting fit and enjoying the great outdoors.
And finally to ensure that these children, older adults, and everyone in between has a safe walk to a quality local park in their community, NRPA is tackling the historic physical and social barriers that limit access to parks in communities across America. NRPA’s Safe Routes to Parks aims to reduce these barriers by supporting infrastructure changes, such as adding sidewalks, signage, and entrances, creating programs, such as safe passages to parks, and policies, such as shared-use of school playgrounds, to ensure people have safe and equitable ways to walk to their local parks. Walking to and in parks not only promotes individual fitness, but also builds up a community as more people use parks and come together in public spaces.
Physical activity outside, such as outdoor walks, is a powerful tool to well-being because it intertwines so many aspects of life. It relaxes the mind, brings people together, and connects us to the world. In the month of July, NRPA is challenging everyone to support their local parks and “get their play on” through Park and Recreation month. July is a perfect time to seek out your local park agency and see what events they have. Explore your local park because they are free, everywhere, and have many ways to help you down the road of getting active. Power down that laptop and go take an #OutdoorWalk!