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Today’s parks and recreation is a community wellness hub that connects people with essential programs, services and spaces that advance health equity, improve health outcomes and enhance quality of life. NRPA soon will publish results from a survey of park and recreation professionals that highlights how this integrated approach advances physical, social and mental health outcomes in nearly every city, town and county across the nation.
Advancing Health and Well-Being
The Parks and Recreation: Advancing Community Health and Well-Being report finds park and recreation professionals view themselves and their peers as leaders in advancing health and well-being in their communities.
Delivering Vital Physical and Mental Health Services
Park and recreation professionals and their agencies advance the physical health of community members. Five in six park and recreation agencies offer in-person fitness and exercise programs while nearly three in four offer virtual fitness and exercise programs. Parks and recreation also promotes access to healthy, affordable and locally sourced food, including community gardening programs (49 percent) and nutrition education offerings (47 percent).
Park and recreation professionals and their agencies also focus on their community’s mental health. Nine in 10 park and recreation agencies host community events where residents can relax, have fun and simply connect with family and friends. Nearly as many agencies offer volunteer and community service opportunities. More than four in five park and recreation agencies offer mindfulness programs (e.g., meditation, yoga, nature walks) that help mitigate day-to-day stress and anxiety, as well as support coping and positive decision making.
Education and Economic Opportunities
Park and recreation services deliver educational and enrichment opportunities for both children and young adults — from providing tutoring and mentoring to being places of first employment. Sixty-one percent of park and recreation agencies offer in-person academic and enrichment programs for area youth and 52 percent of agencies offer similar services virtually. In addition, many agencies provide leadership programs (45 percent) and mentoring opportunities (43 percent) for their communities’ youth.
The Legacy of COVID-19 Programs and Innovations
Since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, park and recreation professionals met the challenge to ensure their community members remained mentally and physically healthy, safe, and not forgotten. This included launching new offerings and reimaging preexisting ones. Many of these innovations will continue post-pandemic.
Elevating Healthy Equity
Nine in 10 park and recreation agencies are taking specific actions to ensure that their health and wellness programs and services promote health equity. Seventy-two percent of park and recreation professionals indicate that their agencies are transparent and accountable to key stakeholders, staff and the public; 70 percent report that their agencies make training staff on diversity, equity and inclusion a priority.
At their core, park and recreation professionals and their agencies protect the health of all people and the communities where they live, learn, work and play. Across the country, park and recreation professionals have transformed themselves into public health leaders — meeting community members where they are and connecting them to needed health opportunities.
As we look toward the future, it is clear that parks and recreation is in a unique position to develop bigger, bolder and more equitable solutions that confront today’s public health challenges while building a culture that prioritizes wellness.
Kevin Roth is NRPA’s Vice President of Research, Evaluation and Technology.