What if we told you about a free gym where your family could get stronger, bring down your average mile time, and enjoy your community? Thanks to the Michigan Parks & Recreation Association (mParks), your local park could just the ticket. Launched in 2015 and supported by the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, the Come Out and Play program is helping both Michigan residents and Michigan parks become healthier.
Partnering with communities across the state, mParks helped various departments integrate 60 minutes a day of physical activity into their offerings. They helped design programming and provided equipment, including trackers to monitor and evaluate the results.
Many places, like Battle Creek, East Lansing, and Troy, expanded an existing summer camp or after school program to include physical fitness and assessment. Other sites created new programming: Saginaw County started a Pickle Ball championship for seniors; Coldwater formed disc gold leagues for youth; and Detroit began an intergenerational walking program that brought together seniors and youth for physical activity.
The projects were diverse but the goals were shared: engage Michigan residents—especially the younger and older folks—in physical activity; encourage exercise in the great outdoors, and introduce parks and trails as a fun place to be active and healthy. Hard numbers and heartwarming stories show that Come Out and Play is succeeding.
First, the hard data:
- In 2015, 1,433 youth completed 122,315,655 steps through 21 local programs.
- Kids who tracked their steps through Come Out and Play increased their steps per day from a starting average of 7,000 to an average of 9,000 at the end of the program.
- Participants’ average mile times improved by 49.1 seconds, their tree sit times increased by 90.4 seconds, and they could do 3.3 more push-up repetitions
In other words, Come Out and Play participants developed healthier habits, increased aerobic capacity, and increased their strength.
On the anecdotal side, mParks Operations Director Kari Woloszyk shared the following testimonial from a senior participant in Marquette:
“When Silver Sampler was announced I felt challenged to actually do something out of my comfort zone to improve my health, form new friendships and experience my beautiful surroundings, even though I hate winter. It was life changing.”
Kari also points to a child who began the program in 2015 unable to run even a quarter mile—this year, he completed the mile run. Families who participated together reported healthier habits like working out as a group instead of retreating into TV or video games, as well as discovering trail heads and other community assets that they didn’t realize existed in their own backyards.
Speaking of community assets, Come Out and Play has benefits that go beyond individual health outcomes. Several program sites made vast improvements to their parks, turning forgotten spaces into vibrant community resources.
Kari explained to us that parks have social, economic, and environmental benefits: they contribute to safe, stable neighborhoods with a strong sense of place and community; they provide jobs and stimulate spending in their communities; they encourage conservation and appreciation of nature. By helping more people discover their local park systems, mParks’ Come Out and Play is increasing the “power of parks”.
Just how much power do parks have? More than you might imagine, according to the National Recreation and Park Association: In 2013, America’s local and regional public park agencies generated nearly $140 billion in economic activity and supported almost a million jobs from operations and capital spending alone.
mParks has already received inquiries from other organizations across the country that are interested in implementing this model in their own states—and though we’re partial to our own #PureMichigan parks, we know the sign of a good program is when others want to adopt it.
By bringing people into parks to be active and improve their health, the Come Out and Play model offers benefits for multiple bottom lines: public health, economic development, conservation, and community.
So next time you’re considering schlepping to the gym but can’t bring yourself to make the trip, or need a family activity that doesn’t involve screen time, think about the parks in your neighborhood—and come out and play!