Parks & Recreation
Parks and recreation facilities provide opportunities for physical activity and can help people of all ages lead a more active lifestyle. People who live near parks are more likely to be active. However, some lower-income communities and communities of color tend to have less access to quality parks and recreation facilities. Our research documents the most effective ways to improve the design, quality and availability of parks and recreation resources. Making recreational facilities accessible in all communities is a critical strategy for increasing physical activity and preventing obesity.
Download our Parks and Recreation-related Resources Sheet for the best evidence available about a variety of park- and trail-based strategies for promoting physical activity.
View The Role of Parks and Recreation in Promoting Physical Activity infographic.
Giles-Corti B, Kerr J, & Pratt M. (2017). Contributing to helping to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals: Truly shifting from niche to norm. Prev Med. 103(Suppl), S1-S2.
Harvey C & Rodriguez DA. (2017). What makes an active public realm? Opportunities and challenges for research. Prev Med. 103(Suppl), S5-S6.
Hipp JA, Bird A, van Bakergem M, et al. (2017). Moving targets: Promoting physical activity in public spaces via open streets in the US. Prev Med. 103(Suppl), S15-S20.
Popularity of Open Streets, temporarily opening streets to communities and closing streets to vehicles, in the US has recently surged. As of January 2016, 122 cities have hosted an Open Streets program. Even with this great expansion, the sustainability of Open Streets remains a challenge in many cities and overall Open Streets in the US differ from their successful counterparts in Central and South America.
Between summer 2015 and winter 2016, we reviewed the websites and social media of the 122 identified programs and interviewed 32 unique Open Streets programs. Websites and social media were reviewed for program initiation, number of Open Streets days, length of routes, duration of program, and reported participation. Interview questions focused on barriers and facilitators of expanding Open Streets and specific questioning regarding local evaluation activities. All interviews were transcribed verbatim and analyzed with constant comparative methodology.
Over three-quarters of US Open Streets programs have been initiated since 2010, with median frequency of one time per year, 4 h per date, and 5000–9999 participants. Seventy-seven percent of program routes are under 5 km in length.
Success of programs was measured by enthusiasm, attendance, social media, survey metrics, and sustainability. Thirteen of 32 program organizers expressed interest in expanding their programs to 12 dates per year, but noted consistent barriers to expansion including funding, permitting, and branding.
Though many cities now host Open Streets programs, their ability to effect public health remains limited with few program dates per year. Coordinated efforts, especially around funding, permitting, and branding may assist in expanding program dates.
Jáuregui A, Salvo D, Lamadrid-Figueroa H, et al. (2017). Perceived neighborhood environmental attributes associated with leisure-time and transport physical activity in Mexican adult. Prev Med. 103(Suppl), S21-S26.
Environmental factors have been associated with specific physical activity domains, including leisure-time and transport physical activity, in some high income countries. Few studies have examined the environmental correlates for domain-specific physical activity in low-and middle-income countries, and results are inconsistent. We aimed to estimate the associations between perceived environment and self-reported leisure-time walking, moderate-to-vigorous leisure-time physical activity and transport physical activity among adults living in Cuernavaca, Mexico. A population-based study of adults 20 to 64 years old was conducted in Cuernavaca, Mexico in 2011 (n = 677). Leisure and transport physical activity was measured using the International Physical Activity Questionnaire – Long Form. Perceptions of neighborhood environment were obtained by questionnaire. Hurdle regression models estimated the association between environmental perceptions and participation and time spent in each physical activity domain. High perceived aesthetics were positively correlated with participation and time spent in leisure-time walking and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. SES differences existed for aesthetics in relation to participation in leisure-time walking. Participation in transport physical activity was positively associated with easy access to large parks, while closer distance to large parks was a negative correlate for participation and time-spent in this physical activity domain. Results suggest that perceived environmental characteristics related with physical activity are domain specific. High perceived aesthetics were an important correlate for leisure-time activities among Mexican adults, suggesting that policy strategies aimed at improving this environmental perception may be warranted. Patterns of associations between environmental correlates and transport physical activity differed from those reported in commonly studied high income countries.
Salvo D, Sarmiento OL, Reis RS, et al. (2017). Where Latin Americans are physically active, and why does it matter? Findings from the IPEN-adult study in Bogota, Colombia; Cuernavaca, Mexico; and Curitiba, Brazil. Prev Med. 103(Suppl), S27-S33.
Latin America (LA) has a unique structural, political, cultural and social environment. This study aimed to identify the places where Latin American adults are physically active; and to determine the association of using public- and restricted-access places with physical activity (PA). We used data from the International PA Environment Network study in Bogota, Colombia (n = 1000, accelerometry = 249); Cuernavaca, Mexico (n = 677, accelerometry = 652); and Curitiba, Brazil (n = 697, accelerometry = 331) (2010 − 2011). Walking and moderate-to-vigorous PA for leisure were measured with the International Physical Activity Questionnaire. Overall PA and PA within 10-minute bouts were measured with accelerometers. Participants reported use of public- and restricted-access places for PA. Mixed-effects regression models were used to determine the association of using public- and restricted-access places with PA. The streets were the most frequently-reported place for PA, and walking was the most common PA in the studied places. ‘Informal’, non-exercise-or-sports places (e.g., shopping malls) ranked high for use for PA in Bogota and Cuernavaca. In Curitiba, use of ‘formal’ places for sports/exercise (e.g., gyms) was more prevalent. Using public-access places was directly related to walking for leisure in all cities, and to additional PA outcomes in Bogota and Cuernavaca. In Cuernavaca and Curitiba, using restricted-access places was also associated with PA. Our study highlights the importance of public-access places for PA in LA. In some contexts, places for social interaction may be as important for PA as places for exercise/sport. Strategies increasing the availability, accessibility and quality of these places may effectively promote PA in LA.
Sarmiento OL, Díaz del Castillo A, Triana CA, et al. (2017). Reclaiming the streets for people: Insights from Ciclovías Recreativas in Latin America. Prev Med. 103(Suppl), S34-S40.
The Ciclovías comprise worldwide programs in which streets are closed to motor-vehicles and open to individuals for leisure activities. Currently, 93% of the regular programs are in Latin American countries (LAC). The aims of this study were to describe the characteristics of regular Ciclovías in 7 LAC and to analyze the factors that influence the sustainability and scaling-up of five case studies. We conducted a survey of 67 Ciclovías in 2014–2015. In addition, we conducted semi-structured interviews with current and former program coordinators and reviewed policy documents from Ciclovías in 5 LAC. The greatest expansion of Ciclovías has occurred since 2000. The number of participants per event ranged from 40 to 1,500,000 (mean 41,399 ± 193,330; median 1600), and the length ranged from 1 to 113.6 km (mean 9.1 ± 16.4; median 3). Ciclovía routes connect low-middle and high income neighborhoods (89.3%), and include the participation of minority populations (61.2%). The main complementary activity offered was physical activity (PA) classes (94.0%), and 80.0% of the programs included strategies to promote biking. All five case studies met definitions for sustainability and scaling-up. All programs shared some level of government support, alliances, community appropriation, champions, compatibility with the mission of the host organization, organizational capacity, flexibility, perceived benefits, and funding stability. However, they differed in operational conditions, political favorability, sources of funding, and number of alliances. The Ciclovías of LAC showed heterogeneity within their design and sustainability factors. Both their heterogeneity and flexibility to adjust to changes make them promising examples of socially inclusive programs to promote PA.
Díaz del Castillo A, González SA, Ríos AP, et al. (2017). Start small, dream big: Experiences of physical activity in public spaces in Colombia. Prev Med. 103(Suppl), S41-S50.
Multi-sectoral strategies to promote active recreation and physical activity in public spaces are crucial to building a “culture of health”. However, studies on the sustainability and scalability of these strategies are limited. This paper identifies the factors related to the sustainability and scaling up of two community-based programs offering physical activity classes in public spaces in Colombia: Bogotá's Recreovía and Colombia's “Healthy Habits and Lifestyles Program-HEVS”. Both programs have been sustained for more than 10 years, and have benefited 1455 communities. We used a mixed-methods approach including semi-structured interviews, document review and an analysis of data regarding the programs' history, characteristics, funding, capacity building and challenges. Interviews were conducted between May–October 2015. Based on the sustainability frameworks of Shediac-Rizkallah and Bone and Scheirer, we developed categories to independently code each interview. All information was independently analyzed by four of the authors and cross-compared between programs. Findings showed that these programs underwent adaptation processes to address the challenges that threatened their continuation and growth. The primary strategies included flexibility/adaptability, investing in the working conditions and training of instructors, allocating public funds and requesting accountability, diversifying resources, having community support and champions at different levels and positions, and carrying out continuous advocacy to include physical activity in public policies. Recreovía and HEVS illustrate sustainability as an incremental, multi-level process at different levels. Lessons learned for similar initiatives include the importance of individual actions and small events, a willingness to start small while dreaming big, being flexible, and prioritizing the human factor.
Torres A, Díaz MP, Hayat MJ, et al. Assessing the effect of physical activity classes in public spaces on leisure-time physical activity: “Al Ritmo de las Comunidades” A natural experiment in Bogota, Colombia. Prev Med. 103(Suppl), S51-S58.
The Recreovia program provides free physical activity (PA) classes in public spaces in Bogota, Colombia. The purpose of this study was to assess the effectiveness of the Recreovia program in increasing PA among users of nine parks in Bogota. This study was a natural experiment conducted between 2013 and 2015 in Bogota. Community members and park users living nearby three groups of parks were compared: Group 1 were parks implementing new Recreovias (n = 3), Group 2 were control parks (n = 3) without Recreovias, and Group 3 were parks with existing Recreovías. Individuals in the “intervention” group were exposed to newly implemented Recreovia programs in parks near their homes. Measurements were collected at baseline and 6–8 months after the intervention started. A total of 1533 participants were enrolled in the study: 501 for the existing Recreovias (included in a cross-sectional assessment) and 1032 participants (from the new Recreovias and control parks) included in the cross-sectional and pre-post study. Most participants were low income females. Twenty-three percent of the intervention group started participating in the program. Users of existing Recreovias were significantly more active and less likely to be overweight/obese compared to new Recreovia users at baseline. No changes on PA were found when comparing the intervention and control groups. Recreovias may have potential for increasing PA at the population level in urban areas given their rapid scalability, the higher levels of PA observed among program users, and its potential to reach women, low-income, less educated populations, and the overweight and obese.
Oliveira Alberico C, Schipperijn J, & Reis RS. (2017). Use of global positioning system for physical activity research in youth: ESPAÇOS Adolescentes, Brazil. Prev Med. 103(Suppl), S59-S65.
The built environment is an important factor associated with physical activity and sedentary behavior (SB) during adolescence. This study presents the methods for objective assessment of context-specific moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) and SB, as well as describes results from the first project using such methodology in adolescents from a developing country. An initial sample of 381 adolescents was recruited from 32 census tracts in Curitiba, Brazil (2013); 80 had their homes geocoded and wore accelerometer and GPS devices for seven days. Four domains were defined as important contexts: home, school, transport and leisure. The majority of participants (n = 80) were boys (46; 57.5%), with a normal BMI (52; 65.0%) and a mean age (SD) of 14.5 (5.5) years. Adolescents spent most of their time at home, engaging in SB. Overall, the largest proportion of MVPA was while in transport (17.1% of time spent in this context) and SB while in leisure (188.6 min per day). Participants engaged in MVPA for a median of 28.7 (IQR 18.2–43.2) and 17.9 (IQR 9.2–32.1) minutes during week and weekend days, respectively. Participants spent most of their day in the leisure and home domains. The use of Geographic Information System (GIS), Global Positioning System (GPS) and accelerometer data allowed objective identification of the amount of time spent in MVPA and SB in four different domains. Though the combination of objective measures is still an emerging methodology, this is a promising and feasible approach to understanding interactions between people and their environments in developing countries.