Parks and green spaces: A health resource for all
| October 27, 2023
Time spent in a park is healthy for our bodies, and can benefit our mental state too. But parks also can help keep our planet healthy.
We all value our health, and the business world understands that. From fitness trackers to technologically advanced exercise equipment to smart watches that monitor everything from heart rhythm to sleep patterns, the industry has flourished with ways to keep us healthy – or healthier.
Climate Change and Green Spaces
But climate change is taking its toll on our green spaces, which in turn can help us stem the tide of damage. Take a look at what weather changes are doing to North America's national parks, including Yosemite National Park last year.
"It was really striking to see that every single tree seems to be getting hit by either climatic changes; it could be dying from drought, or it could be insect attack or fungus, but they're certainly weakened," Garrett Dickman, a forest ecologist with the National Park Service, told CNN.
Other national parks, and local parks, also are suffering the effects, whether from droughts, flooding, wildfires or other non-natural alterations to ecosystems. It leads one to wonder what hope we can hold when facilities teeming with trails, trees and open land are reeling. But there are positive answers.
How Does Urban Planning Help Parks and Green Spaces?
Urban planning is vital, taking into account the need for open spaces, green growth and parks and trails mixed among the United States' bursting cities and suburbs. Many municipalities in North America now require housing developments to include park spaces in neighborhoods, or provide funding for the city to purchase land to create parks and trails.
Growth planning can refer to nature as well. Providing a variety of trees can ensure that sustainable growth and carbon absorption lasts long-term. Trees not only offer shade, they can help stem erosion brought on by flooding or drought and fight air pollution. It's important that the trees can withstand those effects, though.
"You need a tree that's going to survive the weather of today and the climate of the future," Pete Smith, urban forestry program manager with the Arbor Day Foundation, told Fast Company. From a human health standpoint, parks, trails and green spaces are as important as ever, with exercise levels worldwide still lagging behind pre-pandemic figures.
Researchers from the University of California San Francisco used step count data from a fitness app to determine that step counts recovered slightly, especially in North America and Europe, but still trailed overall numbers before the pandemic. That study took place from January 2019, a year before COVID-19 overtook the world, to February 2022, after vaccines and treatments were available.
The Benefits of Parks and Green Spaces
As if we need more encouragement to get outside, researchers in Denmark determined that childhood exposure to green space in neighborhoods led to a lower risk of psychiatric disorders as the children grow. Not to mention that parks can be an excellent location for learning opportunities.
Doctors have taken notice of nature's benefits as well. Some are prescribing outdoor exposure in the battle against sedentary behavior and chronic conditions.
Getting away from the desk can help your organization's bottom line as well. Now that work-from-home and hybrid work are routine elements of the business world, connection and creativity are still crucial. One way to facilitate those attributes is to take your teams outside. Those trips can be a release from stress triggered by the day-to-day workplace grind, encourage connections among disparate groups or individuals whose paths don't cross regularly, and provide a new perspective on duties.
Go Out and Get Active
In the United States, the Trust for Public Land (TPL) has determined that everyone in the United States should live within a 10-minute walk of a quality park. According to the organization's statistics, 1 in 3 U.S. residents do not meet that goal.
The TPL's annual rankings show how close we're getting. This year, Washington, D.C., tops the list of the U.S.'s 100 largest cities, with 99 percent living close to a park. The organization provides guidance, recommendations and encouragement to the nation's mayors and civic leaders for park growth.
In a busy environment, it's easy to overlook the availability and benefits of green space. To take advantage of that is as simple as a walk in the park.
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