Parks for heart health: understanding and influencing park design to optimise physical activity

IPAN’s Associate Professor Jenny Veitch’s project, funded by the National Heart Foundation of Australia via a Future Leader Fellowship, is examining how parks can be designed to encourage physical activity for the prevention of heart disease.

“We know that the way our neighbourhoods are designed is related to the amount of physical activity we do. Parks are an important feature of this built environment, in that they can support people from all ages to participate in regular physical activity. Unfortunately, they’re an often under-utilised community resource,” Associate Professor Veitch said.

“Insufficient physical activity is a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease, so it’s important for local authorities to understand good park design to maximise the potential for physical activity.”

Associate Professor Veitch is conducting a series of studies as part of the Parks for Heart Health project.

Study 1: This study 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.

“Understanding the kinds of parks children are visiting, and why they might be travelling a further distance from home to go to a particular park which isn’t necessarily the closest one, will help us to understand the features needed in parks to attract children of all ages to visit,” Associate Professor Veitch said.

Study 2: The aim of this pilot study is to better understand if “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.

Studies 3-5: A series of three studies including walk-along interviews in parks and online surveys will be conducted to identify park features that encourage park visitation, park-based physical activity and social interaction among adults.

Associate Professor Veitch said the availability of high-quality and well-designed parks was critical to the health of future generations, given projected urban population growth and higher-density living.

The findings from this research will inform future park design and re-development to promote physical activity across all ages, and ultimately better health.

Current findings

  • Flowers E, Timperio A, Hesketh K, Veitch J. (2020) Comparing the features of parks that children usually visit with those that are closest to home: a brief report. Urban Forestry and Urban Greening, 48; 126560. Accepted  9.12.2019
  • Flowers E, Timperio A, Hesketh K, Veitch J. (2019) Examining the features of parks that children visit during three stages of childhood. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(9); 1658.