Parks and Recreation's Secret Superpower

June 5, 2019, Department, by National Recreation and Park Association

2019 June NRPA Update Parks and Rec Secret Superpower 410

As we continue to position our agencies as an essential service in our communities, a newer concept is gaining in popularity and intrigue the idea of parks and recreation as a tonic for mental health challenges. Exercise has long been credited with helping physical and mental health, and its benefits are well-documented. But, what about “forest bathing,” the idea of spending time in nature to improve our mental health? This concept may not be as widely known but is an important addition to the list of benefits our profession provides — a “secret superpower,” if you will.

Attend the 2019 NRPA Annual Conference to learn more about this benefit to our communities’ health and wellness, which will feature the following related sessions, among others:

Building Resilient Youth: Responding to Trauma, Substance Use and Mental Health Challenges in Out-of-School Time Programs – Local park and recreation agencies are one of the largest providers of out-of-school time (OST) programming across the country. With new public health threats and concerns emerging each day, including youth exposed to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and trauma, as well as rising rates of depression and substance misuse, what is the role of the OST field in responding to these challenges? How can park and recreation agencies build additional protective factors into their programs that foster positive physical, social and mental health outcomes? Join NRPA, the Afterschool Alliance and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation in a workshop to explore how OST providers can better identify risk factors, apply a trauma-informed care lens to their work and build social and emotional supports into their existing programs that improve health outcomes.

Parks and Recreation Supporting Mental Health Challenges – Mental illness in the United States has become pervasive, with individuals suffering from many disorders. There are opportunities for practitioners in our field to support mental health challenges that many individuals face every day. The session will provide an overview of mental health issues facing us as a society, increase awareness of the myriad disorders that exist, and show how the park and recreation industry can play a role in providing support to mental health agencies, mental health professionals and individuals who suffer from mental illness, as well as those who want to maintain good mental health. New research reveals a clear link between well-being and immersion in nature. The session will explore examples of agencies from around the country that are doing their part to create better mental health in their communities. Speakers: Barbara Heller and April Chambers.

A Breath of Fresh Air: A Dose of Being Outside to Improve Mental Health – In this interactive, outdoor session, participants will experience, firsthand, the positive impact being outside has on mental health. Participants will learn about current research regarding nature’s effect on mental health while taking part in various outdoor activities that support mental health, including walking meditation, sit spot meditation, mindfulness and more. They will discuss and identify ways to enhance their programs to better address the mental health needs of their patrons and will leave the session with tools and experience to facilitate nature-based mental health programs at their own organizations. Speaker: Stacey Hammond

To learn more about the in-depth health and wellness content being featured and to register for the NRPA Annual Conference, visit