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Volume 30
Number 2
Fall 2013
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Quapaw Bathhouse, Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas Designing Parks for Human Health Benefits
Development of a Healthy Parks Healthy People strategic action plan for Hot Springs National Park
By Dorothy L. Schmalz, Jeffrey C. Hallo, Sarah F. Griffin, Michael Kusch, and Mardi Arce
Published: 4 Sep 2015 (online)  •  14 Sep 2015 (in print)
Healthy Parks Healthy People
Hot Springs National Park
Project overview
Workshop outcomes and project proposals
Recommendations and implications
About the authors
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The World Health Organization has estimated that worldwide 1.9 million deaths annually are the result of physical inactivity, the equivalent of approximately 1 in 25 deaths (as cited in Barton and Pretty 2010, p. 3947). Yet, due to modern society’s dependence on technology, mechanized transportation, and involvement in primarily sedentary occupations, levels of physical activity and mental health status continue to plummet. On a more local level, Arkansas is experiencing similar health concerns related to inactivity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30% of Arkansas citizens are obese (CDC 2012). Furthermore, 30% of Arkansas adults (aged 20 years and over) reported no leisure-time physical activity (CDC 2012).

While much of the responsibility for personal health lies with the individual to take advantage of opportunities, communities and public agencies have the responsibility of providing accessible venues and environments that encourage recreation and physical activity. Research strongly supports that exposure to the natural environment and involvement in the out-of-doors supports physical and mental health, including (1) decreased stress, (2) reduced crime rates, (3) improved social supports, (4) restoration and renewal for those experiencing psychological exhaustion, and (5) improved ability to maintain mental focus (Barton et al. 2009; Coon et al. 2011; Pretty et al. 2007).

While parks offer phenomenal opportunities for users to experience natural beauty and time for peaceful pause, tranquility, and quiet self-reflection, parks also hold potential for serving as an advocate and avenue for elevating participation in physical, energy-expending activity (Cohen et al. 2007). To fulfill this potential, park leaders must consider what aspects of a park promote or deter visitors’ use of an area for active recreation and exercise. Researchers also acknowledge that in addition to individual benefits, it is important to consider the outcomes that an interrelationship among parks, natural settings, and personal and public health could have on national initiatives, such as decreased health care costs and economic growth.

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