Why US Communities Should Be Designing Parks For Older Adults


Published:

As America grays, healthy aging becomes essential. Physical activity or exercise is an important piece of this. Getting regular exercise of just 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week has been linked to a reduction in heart disease, cancer, falls and cognitive impairment due to dementia, including Alzheimer-type dementia.

The physical environment of where a person lives has been shown to influence how much physical activity they get. This is especially important for the rising number of older people in the U.S.

Parks are an important public health resource in our country, connecting Americans to nature, providing access to physical activity opportunities, and serving as a safe space for making social connections. With the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016, national parks received a great deal of attention.

While national parks are great assets to our nation, they tend to be located far from most Americans, limiting their day-to-day use. The same is true of state parks. Even though they are more abundant, state parks often require a longer drive than most people can make on a daily basis.

Community parks offer most Americans the opportunity to be active daily, but a study of 75 American cities found that just under 10 percent of total landmass was devoted to city parks.

Despite the many benefits of public parks, few American older adults take advantage of them. In a recent review we conducted of observational studies in parks, the median percentage of older adults in parks was only 5 percent. Our studies in Chicago, Tampa and Honolulu showed that almost all neighborhood parks in these cities had basketball courts, playgrounds, baseball diamonds and other open fields for soccer and other team sports.

An assessment from the Trust for Public Lands found that playgrounds, tennis court and ball grounds accounted for over 60 percent of city park facilities in the U.S., which reflects a bias toward the young.

But with about 15 percent of the population currently being over age 65, we need to rethink how we design parks so that they offer space for older people, too. As the number of seniors is expected to increase to one in four by 2060, I’ll explain why it’s important to keep them in mind.

Parks In China

The lack of older adults in U.S. parks didn’t really strike me until we decided to conduct a similar study in China.

As I walked through the park in an old industrial city called Nanchang, it looked totally different from our American parks. There was a large lake with a stream flowing through the park, numerous bridges, exercise stations and small grottoes where impromptu exercise classes were being held.

The users were different, too. The park was teeming with older adults, with almost no teenagers in sight. As I visited three other parks on that trip, I knew we were about to discover some major differences.

When we analyzed the data from eight city parks and over 70,000 people in Chinese parks, we found over 50 percent of park users were older adults. We also found a study from Taiwan using the same methods that found a similar number of older adults.

In Nanchang, China, parks had walking trails, adult-oriented fitness machines, exercise pavilions and water features. Surprisingly, these parks did not have basketball courts, ball fields, and other teen-centric amenities.

We found that the amenities affect the users. Only 3 percent of the people found in the Chinese parks were teenagers. A recent study conducted in parks in Hong Kong, a city with strong Eastern and Western influences, found exercise equipment along with playgrounds and ball fields. In Hong Kong, about a quarter of the users were older adults.

Parks For Everybody

Boston Common, the oldest city park in the U.S.It is still not clear why older adults seldom use public parks in the U.S. It might be a lack of features that interest them. It might be safety, with numerous teenagers using the park, or it might be transportation, or another issue altogether. This is an important issue for researchers to assess to help more adults be physically active.

So how did parks in the U.S. come to be built this way?

Surprisingly, early parks in the U.S. were built more like Chinese parks. Boston Common, the first city park in America, was opened in 1634 and includes water features, walking paths and landscaping.

In the 1700s and 1800s, dozens of parks were created in major cities across the U.S., including the National Mall in Washington, D.C. and Central Park in New York City. These parks were designed to be pastoral, where nature was present but in a tamed environment.

In the early 1900s, the Progressive movement changed parks to focus more on children’s activities, including playgrounds. We are still feeling these effects today.

As we build our parks of tomorrow, we need to consider all users and construct parks that encourage activity throughout the lifespan. Hopefully, we can design parks with the best of American and Asian influences to create a more active and healthier America.

Dr. Maddock is the Dean of the School of Public Health at Texas A&M University. He is internationally recognized for his research in social ecological approaches to increasing physical activity. He has served as principal investigator on over $18 million in extramural funding and authored over 100 scientific articles.

This article was republished from The Conversation.

See also:
Aging In Community: Inside The Senior Cohousing Movement
Healthy Aging Stories

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

April 3, 2020

The Leo Moon and Aries Sun make a heart warming and confidence building trine during the mid-afternoon. The uplifting alignment builds self-esteem in a happy, sun-splashed way. This is a favorable period for showing passion and initiative. Venus also…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

March 2020

In this time of social distancing, it's important to make time and create new habits around maintaining your wellness. In support of that, we have gathered over 30 professionals who have...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online
, NH


Sponsor: Ramsay Media LLC
Contact Name: Paul Ramsay
Website »

More information

"When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need" A whopping 70 million people in the US suffer from some digestive issue, from constipation to...

Cost: $40 till 3/25 ($45 after)

Where:
Online
, MA


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Reconceptualizing Mental Health Treatment through Radical Compassion: A Personal Narrative of an Asian American Woman with Pata Suyemoto, PhD **PLEASE NOTE - This lecture will only be held...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online
, MA


Sponsor: Center for Mindfulness and Compassion
Website »

More information

Join us for Monday Morning Meditation and discover the serenity and silence within your own being. This group is designed for people who are new to meditation and looking to explore the benefits...

Cost: $15

Where:
Moth & Moon Studio
173 South River Rd
Suite #4
Bedford, NH  03110
View map »


Sponsor: Jeffrey Charles Warren
Contact Name: Jeffrey Charles Warren
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Show More...
Show Less...

April 1–May 27 With Yasemin Isler, MA and Juan José Miret, Ph.D. Why take Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)? To better manage your stress and enhance...

Cost: $600–$650

Where:
Online
, MA


Sponsor: Center for Mindfulness and Compassion
Telephone: 617-591-6132
Website »

More information

Enrollment begins April 1 with special early-bird pricing for a limited time only!  Classes are October 2020 through May 2021 Faust Family Constellations presents The Constellation...

Where:
750 Pleasant St
Belmont, MA  02478
View map »


Contact Name: Jamy and Peter Faust
Website »

More information

12 month program starts April 1 Whether you're local or not, this could be a great choice for you, to join a community of like minded people and build out your knowledge, command, and...

Where:
Online
, MA


Sponsor: Crystal Concentrics
Contact Name: Kyle Russell
Website »

More information

30-DAY VIRTUAL TRAINING A Journey to Release Core Patterns and Open to Your Soul’s Purpose Is it possible that this forced time in isolation might be a perfect gift from the universe to...

Cost: Early Bird Discount $297

Where:
Online
, MA


Sponsor: Rhys Thomas Institute
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Shocked and upset about the COVID-19 pandemic? Get Relief… Are you experiencing intense anxiety, fear, stress and negative thoughts you can't seem to control about: Losing...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online
, MA


Sponsor: Healing From the Body Level Up
Telephone: 781-444-6940
Contact Name: Judith A. Swack Ph.D.
Website »

More information

In these unprecedented times of uncertainty and fear all around, what foundation and practices can I rely on, to keep me calm, creative, peaceful, courageous? Join this session for a beginners...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online
, MA


Sponsor: Brahma Kumaris Learning Center for Peace
Telephone: (617) 926-1230
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Show More...
Show Less...

Join a like-minded community working toward personal awakening in relation to family, ancestry and Soul agreements. Through the processes of family constellations, energy medicine and evolutionary...

Cost: $175

Where:
750 Pleasant St
Belmont, MA  02478
View map »


Contact Name: Jamy and Peter Faust
Website »

More information

Maintaining your inner stability is more important than ever during these challenging times. Learn techniques and meditation practices that will help keep your mind stable and peaceful. ...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online
, MA


Sponsor: Brahma Kumaris Learning Center for Peace
Telephone: (617) 926-1230
Website »

More information

April 4–5 Wake up to your cosmic consciousness and discoveryour duties to the stars, to the light, and to beloved Mother Earth. Joan Ruggiero shows you how to merge with your higher self,...

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street, #1A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

Begins April 4 For Mental Health Professionals and Yoga Teachers, Students Yoga-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (Y-CBT) is a new research based psychological paradigm that combines the...

Cost: See website

Where:
Available Remotely
, MA


Sponsor: Yoga At The Ashram
Telephone: 508-376-4525
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags