Amp Up Your Body and Mind Outdoors
It’s no secret that spending time outdoors is good for your health and well-being. From taking in fresh air during a walk through the park to taking advantage of the outdoor recreation facilities in your community, getting outside does a body good.
In the context of the nation’s obesity epidemic, parks and recreation spaces provide outlets for Americans to have much-needed physical activity with swimming pools, bike trails and various sports fields. Some communities even feature parks with amenities to encourage year-round use, such as plazas that feature ice skating rinks in the winter.
Beyond the mental health benefits associated with physical activity, spending time outdoors is good for the body, as well. Countless studies show the health benefits of nature when people who have been suffering from stress, sickness, or a trauma can spend quiet contemplative time in gardens or take to the mountains or woods to heal. In some communities, particularly in urban and low-income areas, playgrounds afford the only interaction many children have with nature.
People who live in communities that are walkable, have access to bike trails, and are near parks and green space have higher levels of health than those in communities lacking those amenities, according to Dr. Richard J. Jackson, former director of the National Center for Environmental Health and star of the PBS series “Designing Healthy Communities.”
What you may not realize is that significant work and planning goes into creating outdoor spaces that promote physical and mental well-being. Landscape architects help communities maximize opportunities for daily exercise like walking and biking, as well as places that optimize mental and physical restoration, such as therapeutic gardens.
Consider these tips to make the most of the active living designs, such as parks and plazas, in your community:
- Mix up your routine so you take advantage of fresh scenery. Choose the path lined with trees shimmering their autumn colors or take a route that lets you appreciate the late season blooms in a manicured flower bed.
- Get fit by exploring. The park closest to home may be most convenient, but venturing out to discover new outdoor recreation areas is a great way to keep active while enjoying a daily dose of nature.
- Blend education and activity. Learning about the animals, such as birds, and all the vegetation that inhabit your favorite park makes it rewarding to enrich the body and the mind.
- Think outside the box – box building, that is. Many parks and community centers offer outdoor versions of classes traditionally held inside. Yoga, aerobics, swimming, even group walks are possibilities worth exploring.
- Remember to practice smart hydration: protect the environment by carrying a refillable water bottle that lets you keep thirst at bay and your body temperature in check.
To learn more about how landscape architects design the environment to work for you, visit asla.org/design.
Photo of slide: ASLA 2009 Honor Award. Teardrop Park, New York City, by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc. Photo by Nilda Cosco, Natural Learning Initiative, College of Design, NC State University, Raleigh, NC.
Photo of school: ASLA 2011 Honor Award. Manassas Park (Virginia) Elementary School Landscape by Siteworks. Photo by Siteworks.