The study by outdoor play equipment specialists Proludic, examined the impact on communities of investing in play, sports and fitness facilities and revealed that on average people using the parks increased their level of active play or exercise by 376% as a result of the improvements.
This equated to an extra 3 hours 21 minutes of activity every month or 1.6 days of exercise each year.
The research focused on two sites created as a legacy to the London Olympics, in Bracknell and Watford. Both received new facilities aimed at all age groups, including children, teenagers and adults.
The study found that in both areas activity levels increased for all age ranges, with average visits to the parks tripling (from 3 to 9 visits per month) and the amount of time spent during each visit almost doubling (from 13.5 to 25.5 minutes per visit).
Its findings also underlined how important a role parks play in contributing to the health and fitness of communities.
Some 69% of people included in the study made no use of private or local authority gyms or other sports facilities and therefore were totally reliant on free spaces such as their local park. As a result 62% of people rated their local park as being very important or important to their family’s health.
Commenting on the findings, Michael Hoenigmann managing director of Proludic and Chair of theAssociation of Play Industries, said:
"With so many initiatives to tackle obesity and increase levels of exercise within communities, the important role played by parks and other free community facilities is often overlooked.
"This research demonstrates the major impact such investment can have in creating a change in behaviour and promoting healthier lifestyles.
"For many people, these are the only facilities that are available on a daily basis and local authorities need to ensure all age groups and ability levels are catered for."
Both of the schemes included in the study were backed by former Olympian and javelin world record holder Steve Backley. He commented: "There’s a lot of work that needs to be done if the goal of achieving a lasting legacy to the Olympic Games is to be achieved.
"Our parks are an important resource and should play a key role in delivering that change. They are accessible to all, free of charge and already well used.
"What’s needed is well targeted investment such as this to improve the general standard of facilities across the UK and create free facilities that can be used by people of all ages and abilities."