Supporting Healthy Aging through Parks and Recreation: A Community of Practice

By Colleen Pittard and Tiff Cunin | Posted on May 13, 2022

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Park and recreation agencies provide older adults with a wealth of resources that improve mental, emotional and physical health, social connectedness and meaningful community engagement — ultimately allowing individuals to age in place. This Older Americans Month and Arthritis Awareness Month, NRPA is excited to share updates and news about how local parks and recreation continue to support healthy aging in communities across the country.

First, with support from the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC),1 NRPA recently awarded grants to 48 park and recreation agencies in 24 states across the country, with the primary goal of increasing the equitable dissemination and delivery of arthritis-appropriate, evidence-based interventions (AAEBIs) in park and recreation agencies. NRPA selected grantees based on a holistic review of their applications, which illustrated community needs, in addition to objective measures such as the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index (SVI).

During the application process, grantees selected the most appropriate AAEBI program for their intended audience. Grantees were each awarded two instructor training grants for their selected AAEBI, in addition to program materials such as participant books and program-specific equipment (e.g., weights, resistance bands). Additionally, communities with a high SVI score were eligible to apply for a small monetary award to support the sustainability of their AAEBI beyond the project period. Grantees chose one of the four AAEBIs below to implement:

  • Active Living Every Day is a group-based behavior-change physical activity program developed at the Cooper Institute that focuses on helping sedentary people become and stay physically active. 
  • Fit & Strong! is a physical activity self-management program for older adults or persons with lower extremity osteoarthritis (OA). The program has demonstrated significant functional and physical activity improvements. It combines flexibility, strength training and aerobic walking with health education for sustained behavior change.
  • Enhance Fitness is a low-cost, evidence-based group exercise and fall prevention program that helps older adults at all levels of fitness become more active, energized and empowered to sustain independent lives.
  • Walk With Ease is designed for people with arthritis — adults 18 years or older of varying fitness levels. It is also suitable for people without arthritis who would like to begin a regular walking program to gain the benefits of regular aerobic exercise.

Additionally, all 48 grantees gained membership into NRPA’s Supporting Healthy Aging through Parks and Recreation (SHAPR) Community of Practice (CoP). Over 18-months, SHAPR CoP members will engage with each other, industry experts and health equity subject matter experts to learn how to offer arthritis programs in a way that centers equity, to ensure all people have access to the health benefits of parks and recreation. Participants will work together to learn how to apply NRPA’s Elevating Health Equity Through Parks and Recreation: A Framework for Action, and will strategize what it means to embark on systems change that centers equity in their community. Together, these efforts will result in the improved ability for each agency to sustain the delivery of AAEBIs to all community members, with a particular focus on engaging and supporting the healthy aging of historically disenfranchised populations — Black, Indigenous, Latino, Asian American, low-income and rural communities.

NRPA also developed an interactive map called PLACES: NRPA Healthy Aging Grantees to help park and recreation professionals visualize where chronic diseases, such as arthritis, are most prevalent and to see where arthritis interventions have been implemented.2 To develop this map, NRPA used the CDC’s PLACES data which provides community health data like the prevalence of health outcomes, risk factors and health status.

The PLACES: NRPA Healthy Aging Grantees map overlays health data with the geographical locations of previous and current NRPA Healthy Aging Grantees, which allows park and recreation professionals to use this map as a tool to observe how their colleagues are working to address arthritis across the country. Explore this interactive map to see where our healthy aging grantees are located, and which programs they are providing to reduce the prevalence of arthritis in their communities.

Park and recreation agencies serve as ideal environments to promote and implement effective and low-cost AAEBIs that enhance the health and well-being of older adults. As the aging population becomes more diverse, it is important that community cornerstones — like local park and recreation agencies — learn more about centering equity in the delivery of services, programs, facilities and operations. AAEBIs not only serve as a means to manage and prevent arthritis but are also a means to social activity and social connectivity which are both central to healthy aging.

This Older Americans Month and Arthritis Awareness Month, we want to hear about how you are supporting healthy aging in your community. Share with us in the comments below or by contacting us directly at

Colleen Pittard (she/her) is NRPA’s partnership manager.

Tiff Cunin (they/them) is an NRPA senior program manager.


1. This project is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $460,551.00 with 100 percent funded by CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by CDC/HHS, or the U.S. Government.

2. To date, NRPA has supported more than 360 park and recreation agencies across 49 states and American Samoa to offer evidence-based arthritis interventions to more than 26,000 participants.