Leadership, Signage Can Make Difference in Park Usage for Exercise

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • I’m fortunate! The area where I live has some tremendous parks available. But I’ve noticed something interesting….some are busy with joggers, bikers, runners and people who are roller-blading while other parks are really quiet.  So what causes these differences?

    First of all, let’s look at why parks may have an important – and unfilled role – in our lives. A RAND press release pointed out that many Americans do not meet the recommended amount of physical activity (150 minutes per week), even though they live in communities that have a network of parks and recreation facilities that are designed to encourage people to exercise. In comparison, officials in Finland have seen an increase in physical exercise among its citizens during the past few decades; this increase is believed to be partially attributable to an increased focus on local parks and recreation facilities. However, many cities in the United States have cut their support for public physical activity programs and parks.

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    There are many possible reasons for the lack of usage by U.S. citizens, but a new study out of the Rand Corporation teases out some interesting possibilities. This study looked at whether more involvement by the community, such as park advisory board, and leadership through a parks director could increase the amount that citizens used local parks for physical activity.

    This study was conducted from October 2007 through April 2012 in the City of Los Angeles. Fifty neighborhood park and recreation centers that served diverse populations were the focus. The researchers separated the parks into three groups. One group involved parks that had a local park advisory board as well as a park director. This group worked with the research team to collect and analyze information about how the park was used and then determine how to spend $4,000 in marketing funds. A second group involved parks with only a park director, but no park advisory group; this group of parks also worked with the research team to look at data on how to attract more park visitors who wanted to exercise and also had access to $4,000 per park for marketing, outreach and programming activities. A third group did not have involvement by a director or advisory board.

    The study also involved a multiple-part intervention that included training on outreach and marketing for the groups with the oversight of a parks director, a park advisory board or both, as well as awarding each park $4,000 to increase physical activity in the park. However, the group that included the park advisory director and park advisory board had to concur on all purchases made using the $4,000 for those parks.

    Researchers systematically observed physical activity in each park; they also interviewed park users as well as residents who lived within one mile of the park. At the end of the study, researchers found that the parks in the control group actually had a decline in physical activity. In comparison, the physical activity in the other two parks increased to the tune of an average of approximately 500 more visits a week at a park and 1,830 more hours of physical activity a week at a park.  The residents as well as the park users in the group that involved a park director as well as the group that involved the park advisory board and a park director said they increased the amount of their exercise. Interestingly, the researchers didn’t find any difference between these two groups.

  • And these efforts didn’t have to be huge. For instance, simple interventions such as increasing the signage actually resulted in increased physical activity. The researchers found that more signage increased the amount of physical activity from 7 percent to 12 percent in these parks during the course of the study. The parks that didn’t make this type of change didn’t see a similar boost in activity. The researchers believed that this signage and reminders in the areas outside the park are instrumental in recruiting new users to the park.

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    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Cohen, D. A., et al. (2013). Physical activity in parks: A randomized controlled trial using community engagement. American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

    RAND Corporation. (2013). Modest improvements in marketing and signage at parks can increase visitors’ activity and exercise.

Published On: October 29, 2013