Wellness in the Parks

What exactly is wellness? Most people know it is important for overall health and well-being, but not everyone knows how to define it or what it involves. It is about much more than just diet and exercise. The Global Wellness Institute defines wellness as “the active pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health.”  Most wellness models mention multiple dimensions of wellness, commonly including a physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social and environmental dimension. No matter a person’s social, cultural or racial background, all of these dimensions contribute to a healthy life.

Credit: Global Wellness Institute

This multi-pronged view of wellness aligns very well with the Fairfax County Park Authority’s mission, which is to “enrich quality of life for all members of the community through an enduring park system that provides a healthy environment, preserves natural and cultural heritage, offers inspiring recreational experiences, and promotes healthy lifestyles.” In fact, parks and recreation have been found to be vital to community health and well-being. FCPA supports and promotes the various dimensions of wellness through programs, services and beautiful green spaces.

Physical wellness involves nourishing the body through exercise and good nutrition. The Park Authority offers exercise and physical fitness classes for all ages and abilities at Rec Centers and other sites throughout the County. It also manages several golf courses and parks that offer free or paid access to hundreds of miles of walking trails and spaces for a multitude of lifelong sports and activities. Gardening programs, garden plot rentals and weekly Farmers Markets also help provide access to organic, nutritious fruits and vegetables. The wellness services offered by FCPA even include nutritional consultations and health coaching. Have you already taken advantage of these services?

Mental wellness involves engaging with the world through learning, problem-solving and creativity in ways that strengthen resilience to face difficulties. The Park Authority offers a plethora of programs designed to promote creativity, reduce stress and create opportunities to explore new places and ideas. Examples include day trips, equestrian and farm programs, fine arts and crafts, dance, yoga and forest bathing programs, gardening programs, outdoor recreation and history programs.

Emotional wellness involves being aware of one’s own feelings, understanding the feelings of others, and being able to handle life’s stresses. An article by the National Recreation and Park Association stated that research evidence has found that living close to nature (e.g., parks, gardens, urban forests, green spaces) supports human health and wellness by improving general mood, fostering positive attitudes, reducing stress, improving mental health and functioning, and improving mindfulness and creativity. Have you spent time at a park or garden recently?

Spiritual wellness relates to a person’s thoughts, beliefs and search for meaning. It is well-known that nature—forests, lakes and mountains—often inspires a sense of awe and that many people spend time in nature to generate spiritual feelings and a sense of purpose. There are hundreds of beautiful parks and green spaces throughout the County that provide a serene setting to find that type of connection with nature. Click here to find one near you.

Social wellness involvesconnecting and engaging with others in our community in meaningful ways. Park Authority programs and events are a great way to connect with your community and make new friendships. Parents connect over children’s programs, kids experience teamwork and make new friends in sports and leagues, and community members gather for special events throughout the County.

Environmental wellness involves fostering positive connections between environmental health and human actions. Of course, stewardship and enviromental education are central to many of the nature, gardening, scout and outdoor education programs offered by FCPA. Nature Centers offer fun and interactive educational opportunities for people of all ages, and the beautiful parks and lakes beckon visitors to enjoy and protect the great outdoors.

We invite you to make wellness a priority and take more advantage of the many resources offered by FCPA.

Author Laura Strecker is an adult education program assistant at Green Spring Gardens.