Why should we place a priority on serving older adults? Several reasons!
First, one in seven Americans is an older adult — and this ratio is expected to increase to two in nine by 2040.
Second, Americans are living longer — the average life expectancy is now 79.8 years compared to 47 years a century ago.
Third, older adults are the pillars of our communities. We cannot claim to improve community health without factoring in the health of older adults and making them a priority. Many programs and services currently offered for older adults need to be more robust and address multiple factors that affect their health and wellbeing.
Most recently, NRPA’s Park Pulse Poll showed that 51 percent of Americans urge local park and recreation agencies to offer more non-traditional services such as healthy living classes and older adult programming. Because the older adult population continues to experience a higher prevalence of chronic disease, food insecurity and an overall lack of community support for transportation, there is significant need to provide them with essential services as well as non-traditional services and programs.
The America’s Health Ranking 2017 Senior Report details the health of older adults on a national and state-by-state basis across 34 health indicators. According to the report, the top three leading states for the best older adult health outcomes are Minnesota, Utah and Hawaii, and the three lowest ranking states that could benefit from improved programming and services for older adults include, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Mississippi.
Health data continues to show a higher prevalence of diabetes, hypertension, obesity, premature death and many other conditions among older adults due to the contributions of a key behavioral factor — a lack of engagement in physical activity. Parks and recreation is an important piece of the solution for older adults, and NRPA’s Healthy Aging in Parks initiative aims to support agencies in prioritizing physical activity programming, the built environment and community engagement for them.
Through partnership with more than 150 local park and recreation agencies across the Unites States and Territories, more than 9,000 participants have completed one or more of the evidence-based physical activity programs — Walk With Ease, Active Living Every Day, or Fit & Strong! The benefits of these programs to older adults who participate in them has been tremendous.
MaryAnn who participated in the Fit & Strong! program offered at the Buckeye Community Services Department in Buckeye, AZ, wrote a letter to her instructors in which she stated:
“At my routine appointment today, my blood pressure was 110/60. I have had hypertension since March of 2002 and had a ministroke in February of 2005. Over the years, my blood pressure has fluctuated and the meds have changed with the doses increasing. Currently I am on three different pills for my blood pressure. Today my doctor asked what changes I had made to decrease my blood pressure and I explained the Fit & Strong! class and he said I may be able to decrease my meds if my pressure stays down and maybe come off some of them. The only (ONLY) change I have made in my life is the Fit & Strong! class and it is working nicely, Thanks!” - MaryAnn
Rita and Leo who participated in the Walk With Ease program at the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Mann Older Adult Center also stated:
“I am happy to have participated in the Walk With Ease program as it helped reduce my arthritis pain. I continue to walk for 30 minutes a day and have lost weight —10 pounds since beginning the program”- Rita
“The Walk With Ease program made me feel better. Besides feeling stronger, it also assisted with my cholesterol level, diabetes and high blood pressure. I recommended it to all seniors.”- Leo
The stories are amazing and show the impact made by the parks and recreation agencies offering these programs. If Healthy Aging is not currently a priority, I urge you to make it one and join NRPA’s Healthy Aging in Parks initiative.
NRPA is currently accepting applications for its Instructor Training Grants for Physical Activity Programs. This grant programs supports the training of instructors for the Walk With Ease, Active Living Every Day, and Fit & Strong! programs. Applications are due November 6.
Lesha Spencer-Brown, MPH, CPH is NRPA’s Program Manager.