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How can parks be improved so as to encourage physical activity for the prevention of heart disease?
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How can parks be improved so as to encourage physical activity for the prevention of heart disease?

Associate Professor Jenny Veitch, Institution: Deakin University

2017 Future Leader Fellowship

Years funded: 2018-2021


Insufficient physical activity is an established risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD), but motivating individuals to be active for health benefits has had limited success.

In 2016, The Lancet Physical Activity Series and Urban Design & Health Series identified a key role for environmental factors in influencing physical activity for the prevention of chronic diseases including CVD.

Parks are important features of the neighbourhood built environment that can support people of all ages to engage in regular physical activity; however, they are an under-utilised community health resource.

There is a dearth of research evidence to inform optimal park design for physical activity. Further, given projected urban population growth, higher density living and climate and environmental challenges, the availability of high quality and appropriately designed parks is critical for future generations.

This research will use novel methods to identify the features of parks necessary to promote park visitation and park-based physical activity across the lifecourse.

This research has involved:
  • Analysing existing park audit data relating to children and park visitation, to examine associations between park features and park visitation and how this changes as children get older.
  • Examining whether “green” exercise or exercise undertaken in a park or natural environment can provide additional physiological and psychological benefits over and above that of physical activity conducted in urban environments.  Participants walked in “green” and “urban” environments. During each walk, perceived stress was measured with questionnaires, and actual stress was assessed via levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in saliva.
  • Conducting a series of three studies including walk-along interviews in parks and two online surveys to identify the relative importance of park features that encourage park visitation, park-based physical activity and social interaction among adults.

The findings from this research will inform future park design and re-development for park visitors and be used to advocate for investment in park maintenance and improvement.

The benefit to individuals and communities is improved physical and mental health and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

This research is directly aligned with Action Area 1 in the Heart Foundation's Blueprint for an Active Australia – to create built environments that support active living.

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