How Signs (About Exercise) Perk Up Physical Activity at Parks

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Want to get more active? Pay attention to the signs at your local park; they can boost your physical activity by 7% to 12%.

That’s what researchers from the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit institution that helps to improve policy and decision-making through research and analysis, found when they conducted an experiment in 50 Los Angeles parks.

In the study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, scientists randomized the parks into three groups. Park directors in one group  worked with the researchers to direct $4,000 toward advertising programs such as exercise leagues, classes, or new walking paths. In the second group, the researchers worked with park directors and park advisory boards to allocate the $4,000 budget to more general promotional marketing about the parks. And the final group did not receive extra help or funding.

Over the five year study period from 2007 to 2012, all the parks were monitored for how people used their various facilities and programs. Scientists evaluated what people in the park did, from sitting to walking, or participating in vigorous activities such as running or biking. Thirty-two of the 33 parks that received additional funding through the study purchased signs and banners that invited park goers to participate in a park-sponsored activities. The parks that adjusted their signage to feature such activities saw its participants become more physically active compared to those in parks without the notices.

The results, while not surprising, highlight how even modest changes can encourage more exercise among park-goers. Simply informing them of opportunities to become more physically active, whether by joining a walking group or biking league, was enough to motivate some to increase their activity. By that logic, say the researchers, adding more signage outside of the park to encourage people to visit could also draw in more members of the community and encourage them to get moving as well.

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