The sedentary lifestyle has become more common, and the shift has been costly. One result is an increase in obesity. Childhood obesity rates have tripled (12–19 years old) or quadrupled (6–11 years old,) and adult rates have doubled since the 1970s. Obesity increases risk of chronic diseases and conditions such as: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, cancer and mental illness. This rise in chronic diseases related to obesity results in billions of dollars in medical costs and lost productivity each year.
A key to controlling weight gain and combatting a sedentary lifestyle is daily, moderate activity. Fifty-one percent of U.S. adults are not meeting the minimum guidelines for aerobic physical activity, and twenty-six percent are not active at all. Walking just 30 minutes five days a week can significantly reduce health risks.
Where better to walk than outside, under the trees in nature? Did you know the availability of parks, trails and nature can positively affect your attitude towards being active and encourage physical activity? When people exercise in natural environments, they do so for longer and at greater intensities. People are three times more likely to achieve the recommended level of physical activity than those who solely exercise indoors.
Research has started addressing the question of nature “dosage.” For examples, what types and amounts of nature exposure provide the most benefits? How much is enough? Early studies show residents of areas with the highest levels of greenery were three times as likely to be physically active and 40% less likely to be overweight or obese than residents living in the least green settings. This is after accounting for socioeconomic factors. Another survey found that the number of adults who met physical activity guidelines was 15% higher in neighborhoods with sidewalks. A third study found that 37% of adults living in high walkability neighborhoods were likely to meet physical activity guidelines, compared to just 18% for those living in low walkability neighborhoods. All this speaks to the tremendous impact urban planners and landscape architects can have on the public’s health and well-being simply through the thoughtful design of our community greenspaces.
For more information and links to published research, visit human health in the Vibrant Cities Lab and Urban Nature for Human Health and Well-Being. Use this interactive map to find Wisconsin Parks and Trails near you.
Article written by: Olivia Witthun, WI DNR Urban Forestry Coordinator, 414-750-8744, Olivia.Witthun@wisconsin.gov