A Doctor Knows Best: Parks Do Equal Wellness Speed Session Preview

By Aaron Feldman | Posted on August 12, 2013

In fact, that is what this blog post written by a team of colleagues from the Montgomery County Department of Parks, part of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission in Maryland explores. They preview their Speed Session about the Parks = Wellness program and how agencies can implement similar programs to demonstrate the important role parks and recreation have in health and wellness, one of NRPA’s Three Pillars

Montgomery County Parks manages more than 400 parks; every resident in the County is no more than one mile from a park at any time. Our parks offer a diverse spectrum of amenities that provide physical and mental fitness for everyone who visits.  The challenge we face is getting visitors to consciously realize that inherent connection between parks and wellness.


We started by taking a look at what is going on around us. How is “wellness” being communicated to average citizens?  Employers provide wellness programs such as bike-to-work promotions, gym discounts or weight loss clubs.  Morning talk show hosts will talk about the latest scientific studies documenting the restorative powers of houseplants or decorative desktop water fountains.  “Healthy living” companies inundate us with advertisements for pills, powders and patches that promise to help us lose weight, look younger and feel better.  So, where is the disconnect?  Everyone seems to be looking for easy solutions to get healthy.  Why aren’t people connecting the parks right outside their front door with the opportunity to get healthy? 


Our Parks = Wellness team came together as part of a department-sponsored leadership training course.  We were tasked with developing an interagency approach to enhancing health, wellness and active living in Montgomery County.  For the four of us “Park” employees working in each our own capacities, the Parks = Wellness initiative falls way outside the work box, for sure. 


Parks truly do equal wellness for these Speed Session presenters! They found that working with local doctors helps connect people to the healthy benefits of parks and recreation. 


We met with County leaders from across several departments to find out what wellness-based initiatives they were undertaking.  We learned about a Recreation Department campaign called Be Active Montgomery!, which encourages County residents “to be mindful of their activity and well-being.”  We also learned about a Department of Health and Human Services initiative, Healthy Montgomery, which gathers wellness-related data and provides online tools, resources and contact information to County residents seeking more information about wellness.  


After more than six months chewing on and digesting this concept of wellness, our team recognized a void: people are not connecting parks to wellness on a grand scale. Some small population, maybe, but certainly not all that can benefit do. Sure, there are those who seek outdoor spaces to run, ride their bike or walk the dog, and there are those who might go to a park as part of an organized event such as a soccer game. But going to a park for the express purpose of being healthy?  One might think, “Well, duh! parks are an obvious portal to health,” but who makes the connection?  Who benefits by making the connection?  


Our Parks=Wellness team used our diverse individual backgrounds and our newly-acquired leadership skills to look at this problem from a number of different angles.  We discovered there was one piece of the puzzle none of us had looked at until this point.  We had overlooked a group of people who make their living promoting wellness: doctors.  As it turns out, most doctors had also overlooked parks as a major resource for improving their patients’ physical and mental wellness.  Since that realization, we have been generating enthusiasm for a pilot program that partners doctors with the Montgomery County Parks Department to prescribe parks for healthy living. 


Please join us at the Parks = Wellness: Doctors Prescribing Parks to Promote Good Health Speed Session to hear about Park Prescriptions programs across the country and to learn about the successes and challenges we have faced in developing a Park Prescription initiative of our own.  


Written by: Aaron Feldman, Registered Landscape Architect and Project Manager; Atuya Cornwell, Enterprise Facility Manager, Wheaton Sports Pavilion and Wheaton Ice Arena; Michelle Grace, Park Property Manager; and Rachel Newhouse, Park Planner, Registered Landscape Architect, Park Designer.