SF Rec and Park to Celebrates 5 Years of Healthy Parks, Healthy People Initiative

SAN FRANCISCO – The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department announced today its 5th year of partnership with Healthy Parks, Healthy People Bay Area (HPHP Bay Area), a collaborative initiative of over 30 parks, public health, and community based agencies working to improve the health and well-being of all Bay Area residents through the regular use and enjoyment of parks and public lands.  A special celebration hosted by the Department will take place at Heron’s Head Park on Saturday, September 23rd.

The celebration will kick off with a Nature Walk at 10:00AM where participants will first enjoy a special performance by “Rare Birds”, a troupe of family-friendly entertainers and artists who will be stationed around the park exhibiting their performing arts, and artistic interpretation of rare birds.  Then the Department staff will give a beginning lesson on the basics of bird watching before heading for a hike along the Bay Trail.  The hike will end at noon as the group will return to Heron’s Head Eco-Center for a party with food and games.

“Our Department has been a proud partner of the Healthy Parks, Healthy People Bay Area Initiative since 2013,” said Phil Ginsburg, SF Rec and Park Department’s General Manager.  “Our local program is designed to encourage San Franciscans to spend more time in nature because we have learned that in doing so our physical and mental health significantly improves.”

Since 2013, 766 people have attended the Department’s Saturday HPHP program at four different sites, and short interpretive programs are customized and provided to participants at each site.  Before participants begin to explore in nature, at Stow Lake, they learn about the history of Golden Gate Park; at Lake Merced, they practice Qigong; at McLaren Park, they experience the labyrinths and redwoods; at Heron’s Head Park, they study bird watching and wetlands.

According to HPHP Bay Area, there are significant mental, physical and social benefits to being active in the outdoors and especially in the nature.  In one survey where 450 parents nationwide ranked their children’s ADHD symptoms after taking part in various activities, many parents ranked activities conducted outside in green space as being particularly helpful with the management of the children with attention deficits (ADD and ADHD).  Similarly, in regards to anxiety, a Norwegian study where 345,000 individuals were examined found that those with lower rates of anxiety disorders were those who lived near parks, agricultural land, and other types of green space regardless of income.  And in another survey conducted of 3,000 elderly Tokyo residents, those who lived in close proximity to a park or green space had lower rates of mortality as a result of cardiovascular disease.  Moreover, it has also been reported that time spent in nature is not only linked to improved nearsightedness, but also increased physical resilience.  Even a seminal study conducted decades ago, in1984 found that recovering patients who were kept in rooms with views of trees and grass recovered faster and required overall less medication than those who were kept in rooms without access to trees and grass.  Furthermore, outdoor exposure also has been associated with an increased intake of vitamin D. Regular instances of outdoor exposure have been found to help children remain alert throughout the day, maintain elevated moods, and fall asleep easier in the evening.  In addition to providing individual physical and mental health benefits, studies conclude that spending time and exercising in nature also provide social benefits. This is because many activities conducted in the outdoors—such as walking with others, picnicking, and sitting in a park—can done with one or many individuals.

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