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Welcome to HC Link's blog! Our blog will provide you with useful information on healthy community topics, news, and resources, as well as information on HC Link’s events, activities, and resources. Our bloggers include HC Link staff and consultants, as well as our partnering organizations, clients, and experts in the health promotion field.

Please note: opinions in posts are those of the author and are not necessarily the opinions of HC Link or our funder.

We look forward to engaging in thought-provoking conversation with you!

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Green Space, Parks and Healthy Communities

Submitted by Parks and Recreation Ontario (PRO)

June was Parks and Recreation and Parks month, and to reflect, Parks and Recreation Ontario (PRO) has profiled some important new research into the effects of green space and parks on the health of our communities, and those who live in them.

 

PhotobyRobHyndman

Parks and Mental Health

Dr. Marc Berman of Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute published a study on the positive effects of walking in nature for people who suffer from depression. His research is part of a cognitive science field known as Attention Restoration Theory (ART) which suggests that people concentrate better after spending time in nature or looking at scenes of nature.  

This theory is supported by an overwhelming amount of research. Dr. Frances Ming Kuo of the University of Illinois published a monograph in 2010 to summarize this research. Its an essential read for anyone who is making a case for more parks and natural spaces. Find Dr. Kuo's paper (along with four other great reference documents about recreation, parks and physical activity) here.

Parks and Physical Activity

In another study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers studied neighbourhood park size, proximity and features and their effect on physical activity levels. The study, conducted by faculty at the University of South Carolina, the University of Waterloo and the University of Washington, found that the more features a park had - such as playgrounds, ponds and trails, the more it was used. It turns out that proximity and size of the park had less of an impact on use. The researchers conclude that a system of attractive, natural parks interconnected by trails may be more effective for promoting physical activity. 

Parks and Healthy Communities

The healthy cities movement has been around for almost 30 years - and it had its genesis right here in Ontario with the work of Dr. Trevor Hancock. We know a great deal about what the components of a healthy city should be, but less is known about how to deliver the potential health benefits and how to ensure that all citizens reap those benefits. A new study in the medical journal The Lancet focuses on the complex issues of health and environment. One size won't fit all communities, especially in under-resourced areas. The article looks at different aspects of the built urban environment from wastewater to active transportation and physical activity. The authors promote a collaborative approach between planners and health professional and the involvement of many stakeholders. 

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Whistle While You Walk

 By Andrea Zeelie, HC Link

The benefits of physical activity cannot be overstated. Physical activity is more than sweat-inducing high intensity exercises. Simply walking more offers reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer as well as improved mental health. An active lifestyle combats some of the worst habits for personal health, such as inactivity and a poor diet.

The recently published Road to Health advocates for use of “active transportation,” such as walking or cycling. But, as the report suggests, active transportation can be more challenging for those living in areas affected by urban sprawl or in neighbourhoods with low walkability. Barriers to active transport include usage patterns (such as trip distances), the built environment (such as pavement quality), education (such as understanding of physical health,) and weather (such as ice or snow). Walking may not be possible as a mode of transportation, but it is still an essential physical activity. A recent study by the American College of Sports Medicine reports that children and youth should take approximately 12,000 steps per day to sustain an optimal level of physical activity.

Ontario hosts several fantastic walking focused events which encourage individuals to actively explore their surrounding environment:

- Jane’s Walk celebrates the urban ideals of Canadian activist and writer Jane Jacobs. Jane’s Walk has grown into a global event, taking place on the first weekend of May each year. Community members lead walks in their local neighbourhoods, often around a specific theme. Jane’s Walk is an enjoyable and affordable way to learn more about your community or explore a new one – on foot!

- Doors Open Ontario gives the public access to both commonplace buildings and heritage sites that are not usually open to the public. Sites are open from 10am to 4pm, all weekend (exact dates vary by location), free of charge. Plan to walk to a few sites and make a day of it. This year’s Open Doors celebrates the bicentennial of the War of 1812.

- A number of private companies offer specialized tours, ranging from culinary adventures to mystery expeditions. But plenty of options exist for walkers interested in free tours year round:

  • Some towns and cities provide historical Heritage Walks.
  • Self-guided trails, such as Discovery Walks, encourage environmental exploration.
  • Art galleries and museums offer programming, such as the Royal Ontario Museum’s ROMwalk, which include guided excursions of notable architecture.
  • Ontario Walks is an initiative to encourage physical activity amongst Ontario residents.

To learn more about how physical activity promotes healthy communities, visit HC Link's resources.

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