BOONE, N.C. — If a walk in the park is what the doctor ordered, the team from Appalachian State University’s Healthy Outdoor Play and Exercise (HOPE) Lab has the resources to help fill the prescription.
Faculty and students in the HOPE Lab have collaborated with Park Rx America — a national leader in the park prescription movement — to create a local outdoor recreation database to encourage outdoor physical activity for all ages.
The database includes detailed descriptions, pictures and directions to parks in Watauga and surrounding counties in the Western North Carolina region.
The HOPE Lab team’s work was funded by a grant through the 2018 Chancellor’s Innovation Scholars Program.
Faculty team members Dr. Rebecca Battista and Dr. Richard Christiana in Appalachian’s Department of Health and Exercise Science and Dr. Joy James and Dr. Brook Towner in the Department of Recreation Management and Physical Education identified the need for this database during a previous research study conducted by the HOPE Lab that piloted a pediatrician prescription program for outdoor physical activity.
Prescribing a dose of physical activity in the great outdoors isn’t a new concept, said Battista, a professor who serves as president of the Southeastern Chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). ACSM manages a global health initiative — Exercise is Medicine® — that encourages health care providers to include physical activity when designing treatment plans.
“The physician acts as the authority figure,” Battista explained. “We can encourage people to exercise, but a written prescription from a doctor carries more weight.”
In earlier studies, the HOPE lab team worked with area pediatricians, asking them to prescribe outdoor activity for kids.
“The physicians were very receptive, and we wanted to provide a resource for them to make the program as easy as possible,” Battista said. “We downloaded and distributed prescription pads from the Park Rx website along with outdoor recreation maps of the High Country region.”
While the Park Rx America website was a good starting point, with a database of parks across the country and resources for physicians, it was incomplete. Christiana, an assistant professor, said the Chancellor’s Innovation Scholars Program grant was used to assess local outdoor recreation spaces and to contract a website developer to add a program evaluation tool and user-friendly features to the Park Rx site.
“Student researchers traveled to parks and completed assessments to enter into the Park Rx database,” Christiana said. Description data included:
- Park amenities, such as restrooms, picnic tables and grills.
- Pet policies.
- Sports facilities and fields.
- Trail descriptions, including difficulty, trail length, surface and amount of shade.
- Directions to the park and hours of operation.
- Description of other features.
It has taken almost two years to establish enough data to enhance the website for the physicians’ use, Battista said.
While the focus of the project is to get families physically active outside, a byproduct is a rich database that can be used by residents and visitors.
“Our next step is to build awareness of the website and resources,” Battista said. “In addition to talking with physicians, we’re also reaching out to visitor centers, chambers of commerce and local libraries.”
Christiana said the lab’s research and programming efforts with Park Rx America have received national and international attention.
“With recent emphasis being placed on the benefits of being outside and in nature from the National Recreation and Park Association, we anticipate our work will continue to be an important component in this initiative,” he added.
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About the Department of Health and Exercise Science
The Department of Health and Exercise Science in Appalachian State University’s Beaver College of Health Sciences delivers student-centered education that is accentuated by quality teaching, scholarly activity and service. The department includes three undergraduate academic disciplines: athletic training, exercise science and public health. The department also offers a master’s degree in exercise science that prepares students for advanced study in a variety of related fields, as well as research. Learn more at https://hes.appstate.edu.
About the Department of Recreation Management and Physical Education
The Department of Recreation Management and Physical Education in Appalachian State University’s Beaver College of Health Sciences is an innovative, diverse and forward-thinking academic unit consisting of two undergraduate programs. The recreation management program prepares students for careers as professionals in three concentrations: commercial recreation and tourism management, outdoor experiential education, and recreation and park management. The health and physical education program prepares students for careers as K-12 health and physical educators, school-based activity directors and coaches. Learn more at https://rmpe.appstate.edu.
About the Beaver College of Health Sciences
Appalachian's Beaver College of Health Sciences opened in 2010 as the result of a strategic university commitment to significantly enhance the health and quality of life for individuals, families and communities in North Carolina and beyond. In 2015, the college was named for an Appalachian alumnus and pioneer in the health care industry — Donald C. Beaver ’62 ’64 of Conover. The college offers 10 undergraduate degree programs and six graduate degree programs, which are organized into six departments: Communication Sciences and Disorders; Health and Exercise Science; Nursing; Nutrition and Health Care Management; Recreation Management and Physical Education; and Social Work. Learn more at https://healthsciences.appstate.edu.
About the Chancellor’s Innovation Scholars Program
The Chancellor’s Innovation Scholars Program supports innovative research and practice by Appalachian State University faculty and staff throughout all disciplines and program areas on campus. These internal grants are awarded to Appalachian thought leaders who work creatively and entrepreneurially to address challenges; create lasting institutional change; provide community and societal benefits; establish opportunities that increase student engagement with research, creativity, innovation, design thinking and entrepreneurship; and promote broad-based sustainability in the areas of economics, equity and the environment. The program is intended to complement other innovation initiatives at the university. Learn more at https://www.appstate.edu/innovation-scholars.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier, public undergraduate institution in the state of North Carolina, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls more than 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.