Now we know. Moving around is good for us. Just 10 minutes of walking a day is enough to improve fitness, lower disease risks, and improve overall health. Any kind of walking works, although walking outside in parks and along greenways provides even more benefits. It’s never too late to start moving, either. Engaging in physical activity can produce benefits at any age, even in people who never moved much. And it doesn’t require a sport or a team; in fact, children who lived near parks without playgrounds or sport courts played longer and with many more forms of play. The key is to get out and move.
It may seem obvious that physical activity makes us healthier. After all, one immediate result of our workout is that we usually feel better. We breathe more deeply, move more easily and often, our mood lifts. Parks offer one more plus to this equation. When we walk in parks and woodlands, our mental health improves. Contact with nature in parks is linked to fewer depressive symptoms. This effect is particularly powerful for elders. For everyone living in large urban areas though, access to more green spaces is associated with reduced mental distress and higher levels of well-being.
Just about everyone experiences the tension of too much to do in too little time, not to mention the general stressors of urban life. Studies show that time spent in green spaces and parks can reduce stress. Even more interesting is that our park visits can have a lasting positive effect. Just knowing that the park is close by can reduce stress in otherwise healthy residents. The impact extends across the generations which provide even more reason for an intergenerational Park Break.
Parks make us smart? They definitely contribute. Aside from the benefits we get from being physically active and interacting socially as we are out walking and playing in parks, just looking at parks out our school and office windows can help us work smarter. Students from grade school through high school show better academic performance in reading and math when they have a higher exposure to greenness. Miami-Dade Parks build on this through the after-school programs, Fit-2-Play and Fit-2-Lead, available at selected parks across the County. Adults also benefit from contact with nature. Research shows that after walks outside in parks and greens, or even looking out over a park, we are better able to concentrate. One explanation is that views of nature help us focus.
Physical activity can significantly help maintain and even enhance mobility as we get older. Although we may think that our muscles will naturally shrink due to age, that is the opposite of what happens when we exercise. Actually, the skeletal muscles are able to adapt, and resistance training response in older adults may even exceed the response seen in young adults. The resulting strength and power enhance mobility, independence, and quality of life. Reached senior status? The opportunity for social interaction in combination with physical activity and a planned exercise program for seniors is available in parks across Miami-Dade County.