July is Parks & Recreation Month and a great time to use your local parks to improve your health. Obviously, they’re a good place to get some outdoor exercise. But beyond that, your local park can be the perfect setting for convenient contact with nature, which itself has a number of health benefits.

Getting out there.

Summer is peak traveling season when it comes to our national park system, but many Americans are still not back to “normal” vacationing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. That makes your local park even more valuable. And whether you’re venturing to Yellowstone or just some neighborhood green space, taking advantage of parks and park activities is a smart move.

Over 90% of those surveyed say they use their local park and recreation resources during the summer, with swimming and walking/hiking among the most popular fitness activities. And you can usually find team sports leagues, tai chi classes, and other organized group activities at a nearby park.

The power of nature.

But you don’t even need organized exercise to reap serious health benefits from your park. A number of studies have shown that spending time in nature is linked to improved wellbeing. Research indicates that 120 minutes per week is an important threshold to hit.

That means that spending just a couple of hours of your Saturday afternoon in the park can help battle stress, lower blood pressure, enhance immune system function, and improve mood. Amazingly, there are also community-level benefits, such as greater social cohesion, associated with a deeper connection to nature.

Achieve better overall health and wellbeing.

The other thing that parks can do is help you achieve better overall mental and physical health.
Studies have shown that being in nature can provide several mental health benefits by lowering stress and improving feelings of calm. In the 1980s, the Japanese introduced the idea of shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” as a way to reconnect with nature and reduce stress. You don’t need a remote forest to participate in this activity either. Simply walking around in a park or green space and consciously thinking about your surroundings can help. There are also forest bathing adventures if you want to take a little longer than your lunch break to connect with nature.
Park-life also has several physical health benefits. Adults and children who live near parks and open green spaces report higher levels of exercise. More physical activity and exercise can reduce the risk of:
• Obesity
• Heart disease
• Diabetes
• Osteoporosis
• Arthritis, and more
Parks can also help combat childhood obesity and other chronic conditions in children. Past studies have shown that kids with ADHD do better when they can go outside and play than those taking medication.

Visit your local parks.

So, whether you plan for a vigorous bicycle ride or just a family picnic in the grass, there are many good reasons to spend time in your local park throughout July—and beyond. Parks have very real preventive power.