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Active in Parks – A HPHP program

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Active in Parks – A HPHP program

This innovative Australian program brings the health, community and corporate sectors together to help connect people with parks.

Unfortunately, the prevalence of overweight and obesity among children and adults has reached epidemic proportions and Australia is one of the worst.  We know that most Australians do not do enough exercise. This year, new data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics found around six out of ten Australian adults do not meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity. This is also true in the Geelong region, in the Australian state of Victoria.

The data shows both adult males and females in the Geelong region have incidences of overweight and obesity significantly higher than the Victorian average. This increases the risk of a range of preventable conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and depression.

Combining these two factors – being inactive and being overweight or obese – paints a very bleak picture for the future health of this region. However, the good news is, these health problems are preventable!

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Geelong’s Active in Parks program aims to connect people across the Geelong region to parks and open spaces as a way of enhancing their physical and mental health. This is an innovative program to help people from the Geelong region break down the barriers to getting out into the region’s magnificent parklands.  Promoting nature, parks and open space as the setting for improving community health.

It is a multifaceted approach to increase physical activity in parks. It has been achieved by partnering the health and community sector with local government, corporate agencies and the park sector.  The program brings together, through local organisations and local natural assets, the capacity to activate community leaders to use our fantastic parks as part of the solution for our future health and well-being.

Geelong’s Active in Parks is a joint program of People & Parks Foundation, Parks Victoria, and G21 – Geelong Regional Alliance. The program is supported by the Geelong region’s five municipalities, City of Greater Geelong, Colac Otway Shire, Borough of Queenscliffe, Surf Coast Shire and Golden Plains Shire. The program is sponsored by Medibank Community Fund and is a piloted in the Geelong region. The model is planned to be replicated in other areas of Victoria and Australia.

“This is truly a multi-sector approach engaging the health, community and corporate sectors in using parks to actively create healthier communities – why not replicate this across Australia?” says Jacqui deKievit, CEO, People and Parks Foundation.

About the program

Geelong’s Active in Parks is for every person, every day. What is unique about it is that it uses parks as the setting for health and wellbeing. It’s an inclusive model for all members of the community, regardless of their age, level of fitness or health status.

This program has activities for the general public, as well as programs for targeted groups who have special needs or who need extra support to get into a park – for example, people with chronic disease, people at risk of developing diabetes, young mothers potentially socially isolated, new arrivals and refugees, and risk youth.

The program has a large number of partnerships and activities within.  One is with working with Medical Local Barwon, formally the General Practitioners Association of Geelong. Doctors in 5 general practices prescribe exercise in the park for suitable patients. More than 60 patients were referred into an 8 week ‘green activity’ program, run by Leisure Networks, in 5 locations around the Geelong region.

The participants tried yoga, ranger walk and talks, bush gym sessions, bocce, gymstick, and tai chi. 85% of participants stated they will participate in physical activity independently now after completing the program and stated they had increased confidence in getting active in parks, were  enthusiastic to try more activities, attempted activities they had never tried before.  “Really reminded me that it is good to take time to exercise”; and “I will walk more often”. Participants also stated they enjoyed the fresh air, made new friends, felt more active and that it improved their mood.

There are also several programs for specific target groups, such as a partnership with Headspace, the YMCA, and North Geelong Secondary College.  An outdoor activity program was designed  for 12 Year 8 students who challenged themselves hiking, kayaking, bike riding, rock climbing and surfing.  These new parks ambassadors are now charged with encouraging others at their school to get out and enjoy the great outdoors.

Another specific program was developed with Diversitat, offering park outings for over 80 for refugees and new arrivals to visit Serendip Sanctuary, the You Yangs Regional Park and the Barwon River Parklands.  Participants, including many children and young adults, enjoyed active games with staff as well as walking and learning about the native flora and fauna from the Parks Victoria ranger.

What are some of the benefits of exploring our parks?

Parks are great for mind body and soul! Did you know that research shows that being active outdoors is better for you than exercising indoors? A park is also a great place to relax, unwind or spend time with friends and family. And it’s free!

Parks Victoria’s Strategic Health Advisor, Dr Rob Grenfell, is one of the key drivers behind the program and believes in its potential as a preventative health measure.  “I think there’s tremendous opportunity for the health sector to use nature as a medicine – its much cheaper to prescribe a walk in the park than to build a new hospital,” he says.

For many of us, the best medicine that could ever be prescribed is to take a step into the park. Increasing your exercise routine can help you improve your energy levels, mood and sleep patterns.

·         Nature calms the mind and soothes the nerves

·         Parks and trails encourage you to be active and healthy

·         Parks bring people together to share great experiences.

Regular physical activity is important because it benefits your health and wellbeing today and into the future. Everyone can improve their quality of life and increase their number of healthy years by adopting a healthier lifestyle. Age is no barrier to staying active and parks are great for the young and the young at heart.

Here are some of our favourite suggestions for enjoying yourself in the great outdoors and boosting your health.

·         Take a bike ride along a river trail or a walk along the beach before a healthy picnic or BBQ;

·         Local papers and council websites often have ‘What’s On’ areas of seasonal activities in the park such as twilight walks, ranger-led tours or yoga in the park;

·         Try a game of Petanque – it’s great for all ages;

·         Take your four legged friend for a long walk – why not even ask your neighbour to join you?

·         Encourage the kids to start an all-in cricket match in the park.

 


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