International study finds connection between exercise and parks in eight countries

People who live within 1km of a park do 24 minutes more moderate to vigorous exercise a week than those who do not, according to a new study conducted across eight countries.

Low Hall Sports Ground in Walthamstow, east London. Image: HW
Low Hall Sports Ground in Walthamstow, east London. Image: HW

The International Physical Activity and Environment Network (IPEN) Adult Study was conducted by multiple academic institutions and aimed to assess the connection between access to parks and physical activity in a systematic way across countries. It followed on from several former studies which had mixed results on the question but had also used different study methods, producing a report published by Elsevier in the Urban Forestry & Urban Greening journal.

IPEN used the same methods for 6,181 participants from 12 cities in eight countries: Belgium, Brazil, Czech Republic, Denmark, Mexico, New Zealand, USA and the UK. It examined participants’ use of parks across 11 measures of park access – one perceived and 10 using Geographic Information Systems. It then measured the type of exercise taken with accelerometers, sorting them into moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) and four types of self-reported leisure-time physical activity.

More parks within 1 km from participants' homes were associated with greater leisure-time physical activity and accelerometer-measured MVPA. Respondents who lived in the neighbourhoods with the most parks did on average 24 minutes more MVPA per week than those living in the neighbourhoods with the lowest number of parks, the study found.

The report authors stated: "Having multiple parks nearby was the strongest positive correlate of physical activity. To increase comparability and validity of park access measures, we recommend that researchers, planners and policy makers use the number of parks within 1km travel distance of homes as an objective indicator for park access in relation to physical activity."

The report’s authors are Jasper Schipperijn, Ester Cerin, Marc A Adams, Rodrigo Reis, Graham Smith, Kelli Cain, Lars B Christiansen, Delfien van Dyck, Christopher Gidlow, Lawrence D Frank, Josef Mitáš, Michael Pratt, Deborah Salvo, Grant Schofield, James F Sallis.

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