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Your health: Parks, green spaces promote exercise

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Katie Fox, nurse practitioner, discusses the Parks RX program at the Jefferson County Department of Health in Birmingham, Ala., Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016. (Mark Almond, special to the Times)

By Ariel Worthy

The Birmingham Times

Katie Fox, nurse practitioner, discusses the Parks RX program at the Jefferson County Department of Health in Birmingham, Ala., Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016. (Mark Almond, special to the Times)
Katie Fox, nurse practitioner, discusses the Parks RX program at the Jefferson County Department of Health in Birmingham, Ala., Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016. (Mark Almond, special to The Times)

Birmingham is constantly adding green spaces, areas designed to encourage healthy lifestyles among its residents. And the more Birminhgamians learn about the city’s parks, the more likely they are to visit for recreation, say area medical providers.

“I hear a lot of people say they’re already going to some of these parks, like Railroad Park, but other parks might be closer to their homes,” said Katie Fox, a nurse practitioner at the Jefferson County Department of Health’s Eastern Health Center.

That’s why the new Parks Rx program is so important, she said.

This initiative—led by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Minority Health & Health Disparities Research Center (MHRC) and a slate of community partners—hopes to reconnect Birmingham residents with nature and help them adopt healthier lifestyles. In addition to working with doctors to prescribe better health habits, the Parks Rx program is mapping close to 100 parks and greenspaces in Birmingham where people can go to walk, run, play ball, or participate in other physical activities.

Fox encourages her patients to push themselves once they get to the park.

“Often I’ll suggest to them, ‘Well, if you’re walking two laps, next time go for four laps, or attend the yoga classes at Railroad Park,’” she said.

Exercise paired with healthy eating habits can help people manage chronic diseases, as well, according to Fox.

“It helps lower blood sugar and cholesterol,” she said. “It’s also great for managing stress and, of course, weight. Going outside and simply taking a walk can do great things to prevent chronic diseases.”

It’s important to continually talk about exercise with patients when they come for appointments, Fox said.

“We definitely have to talk about it every time they come in,” she said. “We can’t just tell them to do it, we have to give them options and ideas and consider their current lifestyles and schedules.”

Another perk about visiting parks: It’s a great way for people to learn more about the city, Fox said.

“Birmingham is such a beautiful city, and there are so many parks and trails,” she said. “I think programs like Park Rx not only help residents get active but also make them aware of music festivals and other events—all of which contribute to healthier lifestyles and communities.”

This story is from our UAB Parks Rx supplement. To read more about Parks Rx and Birmingham REACH for Better Health, pick up the 9/22 issue of The Birmingham Times.