Just one block from our house, there’s a park I love visiting with my two sons. Sitting on a bench and enjoying the fresh air is enough, really. If I have work to do, I’ll read or check emails or text messages. But sometimes I’ll join in a soccer game with them, especially if they’re a player short (translation: desperate).
Often they argue about who gets me on their team! (Actually, this is not as flattering as it might seem.) But I’m game, anyway. I can use the exercise.
Idyllic summer days
Most days, children and families cluster by the playground equipment. The littlest children run around and excavate such things as toys and bottle caps from the sandbox. Tweens and teens play league or pickup games of baseball or soccer. When the weekend weather cooperates, it’s as though we’re wrapped in a cocoon of warm sunshine, the buzz of bumblebees, the whir of the cicadas, and the song of the cardinal. It seems almost idyllic.
Yet girls and older adults are less likely to use public parks for recreational activity, according to a study by RAND Corp, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. While older adults (those aged 60 and up) make up 20 percent of the population, RAND researchers found older adults make up only 4 percent of those who use public parks. Girls are not well-represented, either, as only 40 percent of younger children and 32 percent of teens who use public parks are girls.
Pushing for walking loops
Researchers say that walking loops and dedicated exercise areas can increase participation by older adults. While nearly half of the public parks studied had outdoor basketball courts and baseball fields, fewer than 30 percent had a walking loop. More organized sports opportunities for girls could help increase girls’ use of the parks.
If a park near you lacks a walking loop or exercise area, maybe you could encourage your city or town to invest in these. If your town has T-ball, baseball, and basketball leagues for boys, are there similar opportunities for girls or co-ed opportunities? Let’s ask these questions, and push for parks as places for girls, older adults, and everyone in our communities!
This Throwback Thursday blog by Elizabeth Hunter, editor of Gather magazine, first ran in May 2016.