Improving the quality of life – promoting the health benefits of recreation – Editorial

Eric O’Brien

As the nation’s attention turns to the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in Atlanta, many Americans will marvel at the dedication, commitment, perseverance, and mental and physical fitness of the athletes. The more than 14,000 participants in both competitions will show the world how the human body and spirit can benefit from sports and activity. But, there is more to athletic competition than sports. These athletes are made strong–physically and mentally–by participating in healthy, active lifestyles. And although the athletes in Atlanta this summer represent a small portion of the world’s population, the remaining majority should receive an important message from them.

In fact, the American public may be one of the nations most in need of hearing this message. According to national statistics, one out of every four teenagers is dangerously overweight. Among seven to 12-year-olds, 98% have at least one of the heart disease risk factors (obesity, hypertension and high blood cholesterol) and 54% have more than one of the factors. In addition, about 65% of all children between the ages of 10 and 18 cannot pass a minimum standard of fitness.

Fortunately, many of these health risks can be curbed, or eliminated, by moderate levels of physical activity and recreation. Just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a minimum of three days a week has a great impact upon preventable diseases and enhanced quality of life. But unfortunately, 54% of Americans are sedentary and only 24% exercise regularly, according to the U.S. Public Health Service. This inactivity is a major contributor to an increasing incidence of obesity, heart disease, hypertension and a host of other ailments that reduce the quality and quantity of life.

As concern for Americans’ declining health grows, the U.S. Surgeon General will release a report on Physical Activity and Health written by the country’s top exercise scientists under the direction of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. The report, to be released this summer, is expected to motivate Americans in the same way that the 1964 Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health did.

With over a quarter century dedicated to the improvement of quality of life, NRPA has an obvious role in the movement toward decreasing the risk of disease through activity. We are one of 10 national organizations funded through a grant by the Centers for Disease Control to promote physical activity and the messages of the Surgeon General’s Report. More than 510 park and recreation departments are participating in this nationwide effort to expose those who are physically inactive to the fun and enjoyable aspects of physical recreation and park utilization.

Through our Active Living/Healthy Lifestyles campaign, we are promoting the move from inactivity to participation in moderate, enjoyable leisure activities. This type of transition is more attainable, and likely to be more enjoyable, than going from the couch to a rigorous workout schedule. To those nonOlympic athletes, a 30-minute walk in the park is far more appealing than a 20 minute run on a tread mill or stair climber, and the results are still tangible. Parks and recreation facilities offer an ideal setting for a number of enjoyable leisure activities. In addition, parks and recreation professionals hold a wealth of knowledge and skill in the areas of health, nutrition, and exercise. The combination is a natural one.

And the timing is perfect; we are perfectly positioned to sell Americans on the wisdom of incorporating physical activity into everyday life. The release of the Surgeon General’s Report with the Olympic and Paralympic backdrops, attention will be focused as never before on the benefits of regular exercise. As parks and recreation professionals and citizen advocates, we need to take advantage of this golden opportunity to turn the spectators into participants.

Now that summer is in full swing, your facilities–especially those involving cool water–should be bursting with activity. As the sunbathers and swimmers converge on your aquatic facility, Parks & Recreation illuminates aquatic-related issues ranging from aquatic therapy, to lifeguard CPR training to handling the media during an aquatic crisis.

The use of water to improve physiological and psychological functioning is often a valuable tool used by therapeutic recreation professionals. Beyond uniqueness and enjoyability, water-based therapy is also effective. Authors Ellen Broach, M.S., doctoral student at the University of Georgia and past chair of the NTRS ad hoc committee on aquatics, and John Dattilo, Ph.D., professor at the University of Georgia’s Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, tell us how new advances in aquatic therapy techniques have shown great benefits for a growing number of patients (p. 38).

Contrary to the image displayed in movies and on television, CPR–even when performed properly–is rarely successful. Yet, when it is performed incorrectly, the victim’s chances of survival are as slim as if it were not performed at all. While correct CPR training is imperative, recent research into survivor rates for cardiac arrest victims may lead to questions about the adequacy of lifeguard CPR training. Ron Shaw, facility supervisor at Buffalo Grove (IL) Park District, separates fact from CPR fiction (p. 44).

As too many aquatics professionals know, drownings and other aquatic accidents can occur and not be the fault of your agency or lifeguard. However, if you are not prepared to balance the facts and separate the myths from reality and truth from illusion, your agency may become a victim of the media.

Authors Kevin Hoffman, ARM, loss control manager, and Steven J. Kleinman, J.D., general counsel, at Park District Risk Management Agency, explain the importance of a crisis management plan in such a situation (p. 48).

While your facilities are being put to the test, Parks & Recreation shares the planning and design processes that went into the creation of a variety of diverse facilities, including the home of the new Ahrens NRPA Institute.

Returning land to public recreation use is an admirable objective. However, planning the construction of a new aquatic center on an EPA Superfund site makes the process more complicated. This type of reclamation project requires a delicate balance of human safety concerns, multiple bureaucratic regulations and the recreation needs of a community. Betsy Doud, marketing consultant for Williams Associates Architects, Ltd., tells how this transformation happened for Reed Keppler Park in West Chicago (p. 56).

As plans for the state-of-the-art Ahrens Institute progress, so do plans for the 120-acre model park surrounding the facility. The model park, visualized by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, will help meet the expected recreation needs of families moving into the area, as well as show-case cutting-edge recreation equipment and materials explains Carol Ann Cohen, public information officer for the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (p. 62).

The 1996 Paralympic Games, the world’s second largest sporting event, will be held August 16-25 in Atlanta. With over 3,500 elite athletes with physical disabilities from over 100 nations competing, public parks and recreation has the opportunity to contribute to the paralympic movement through programs and services for people with disabilities and possible future Paralympic athletes. Dyann M. Leonard, CTRS, recreation therapist at Eddy Cohoes Rehabilitation Center (NY), explains the role of public parks and recreation in the Paralympic movement and visits with Paralympic Games President and CEO Andrew Flemming (p. 74).

COPYRIGHT 1996 National Recreation and Park Association

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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