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Research yields insights for creating better parks

July 21, 2021 | UHCL Staff

Two women running in a park

Closed facilities and social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic have made outdoor parks more important than ever for exercise and leisure. A new study from University of Houston-Clear Lake researchers identified physical activity trends and potential barriers to park usage, emphasizing the importance of accessibility to green spaces.

UH-Clear Lake Exercise and Health Sciences faculty members Isabelle Kusters, Julianna Dean, and Denise Cazes, as well as Master of Science in Exercise and Health Sciences alumnus Mark Sommer while he was a graduate student, investigated where and when members of the UHCL community were exercising. They also collected their experiences and attitudes towards using public parks.

Their study has been recently published in an article entitled, "Physical Activity Behaviors and Park Use Among Members of a Mid-Sized University" in the Texas Journal of Public Health.

"In public health, we know that physical activity is crucial for our physical, mental, and social well being," Kusters said. "Houston has high levels of chronic disease, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, making physical activity even more important to integrate into daily life. This is why green spaces such as parks are a crucial component of a community's infrastructure. They must be readily and freely accessible for communities to use," she said.

Sommer said he was able to apply the data management and analysis techniques that he learned in his classes to this project. "I was involved in coding detailed survey responses into analyzable formats, applying the skills and knowledge I gained throughout the Master's program," he said. "Communities and municipalities can take this information more into account when city planning. It will help them make it easier for people to get into parks, because people need to feel comfortable when they're trying to get fit."

Many of the survey respondents reported that they typically performed activities such as walking, running, and resistance exercises. These top activities were done across various locations, such as at home, in gyms, or at parks. "We also found that most respondents exercised after 5 p.m., and they completed physical activity on at least one weekend day and at least one weekday," Dean said.

Respondents also said they found safety, maintenance, a relaxing atmosphere, and easy parking to be very important in parks.

"What this data shows us is that the types of physical activity that people are doing and the times that they are exercising are consistent with park availability, if the conditions are right," she said.

Kusters said the results of this study are crucial for understanding how to improve the physical spaces within our communities. "We do have a lot of beautiful green spaces and trails on and around our campus. However, we must ensure that parks are also integrated within residential areas for optimum public health."

For more information about UHCL's Exercise and Health Sciences program, go online.