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Walkable Environments Encourage Kids' Use of Recreational Facilities

by Craig Odar | Aug 01, 2011
Ability to walk, bike to facilities a key factor; proximity also important

INDIANAPOLIS – Youth are more likely to utilize recreational facilities when they can access them quickly and safely, according to a study in the December issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise®, the official scientific journal of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

Mollie Greves Grow, M.D., MPH, and her research team reported results of activity levels in kids ages 5 to 18 surveyed in metropolitan Boston, San Diego and Cincinnati. Parents and children indicated how often they used various types of public recreational spaces – including swimming pools, running tracks and playgrounds – and how close they lived in walking or biking distance to these facilities.

Children who lived closest to facilities and had the highest perceptions of area safety utilized recreational areas most often. Overall, children who regularly walked or biked to recreation areas were most active at those sites. Older children living in areas with few traffic and crime safety concerns biked and walked more often.

“This study makes a great case for built environments that are conducive to active transportation, not just for adults but for children, too,” said Dr. Grow, a pediatrician. “Children who can access recreational facilities on foot or by bike are able to be more active — they don’t have to depend on a parent driving them someplace. If they don’t feel comfortable using these transportation methods, they are more likely to sit at home and not get the daily physical activity they need to be healthy.”

Grow also pointed out that children who live in places where recreational areas are far away or viewed as inaccessible due to safety concerns are actually missing out on two chances for physical activity: the exercise that comes with getting there, and the exercise gained at the facility itself. She said lawmakers can alter their city planning to provide access to safe walking and biking, to ensure everyone has prime opportunities for activity. Contacting your local officials is a good step toward making your community more exercise-friendly.

Children should accumulate at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day. In addition to the numerous preventive health benefits exercise offers, higher physical activity levels are linked with better academic performance in youth.

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NOTE: Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise® is the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, and is available from Lippincott Williams & Wilkins at 1-800-638-6423. For a complete copy of the research paper (Vol. 40, No. 12, pages 2071–2079) or to speak with a leading sports medicine expert on the topic, contact the Department of Communications and Public Information at 317-637-9200 ext. 127 or 133. Visit ACSM online at www.acsm.org.

The conclusions outlined in this news release are those of the researchers only, and should not be construed as an official statement of the American College of Sports Medicine.

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