Hearts N' Parks is a national, community-based program supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health and the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). This innovative program aims to reduce the growing trend of obesity and the risk of coronary heart disease in the U.S. by encouraging Americans of all ages to aim for a healthy weight, follow a heart-healthy eating plan, and engage in regular physical activity. The American Dietetic Association is also working with Hearts N' Parks communities to provide expertise on heart-healthy nutrition.
Why are these goals important?
Through Hearts N' Parks, science-based information about lifestyle choices that can reduce an individual's risk of heart disease and skills for incorporating heart healthy behaviors into one's life are taught as part of the regular activities offered by park and recreation departments and other community-based agencies. The program also provides tools for measuring the impact of these activities.
Hearts N' Parks also demonstrates the impact that community park and recreation programs can have on helping people improve and maintain their health. According to NRPA, 75 percent of Americans live within a two-mile walking distance of a public park. These facilities are widely accessible to individuals from culturally and socioeconomically diverse populations, as well as to individuals with disabilities.
Key elements and benefits of Hearts N' Parks include:
Hearts N' Parks was piloted during the summer of 1999 in 33 sites in 12 North Carolina communities involving more than 2,000 participants. An evaluation showed that participants retained information about heart-healthy behaviors and intended to eat healthier. In addition, children reported learning new physical activities and improving their performance in others; seniors reported feeling healthier and experiencing less pain in their daily lives by the end of the program.
Hearts N' Parks was expanded to 50 new Magnet Center sites in 11 states throughout the country in the fall of 2001. At that time the Magnet Center sites made a three year commitment to implementing heart healthy activities that emphasize the 5 Ps of Hearts N' Parks, i.e., People, Programs, Partners, Public Visibility, and Performance Measures. Descriptions of the heart healthy programming activities for each of the Magnet Centers can be found at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/prof/heart/obesity/hrt_n_pk/hnp_mags.htm. In the report on the Magnet Centers' performance in the first year, improvements were shown in almost all indicators of heart healthy eating and physical activity. The report provides performance information by age group at the individual Magnet Center sites, by State, and on the Hearts N' Parks program overall. The entire progress report on the first year's efforts can be found by following this link to see the Magnet Center performance report for year one.
Hearts N' Parks is fun and flexible. Each community agency can adapt the program material to its own design, abilities and needs. And it's for everybody-participants can be young and old, active and non-active. Community organizations interested in signing up to become a Hearts N' Parks community should contact the NHLBI Health Information Center at: