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About Hearts N' Parks

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?

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Overweight and obesity increase one's risk of developing heart disease.

  • The numbers of overweight children and adolescents, as well as obese adults in the United States have more than doubled over the past two decades. Approximately 64 percent -- are currently overweight or obese. In addition, 15 percent of children and adolescents are considered overweight. Overweight and obesity acquired during childhood or adolescence may persist into adulthood and increase the risk for some chronic diseases later in life. In addition to being more likely to develop heart disease and stroke than individuals with healthy weights, overweight and obese individuals are at increased risk for diabetes, cancer, gallbladder disease, sleep apnea and other respiratory problems, osteoarthritis, and other conditions.

  • Adopting heart healthy behaviors, such as following a healthy eating plan and participating in regular physical activity, can help individuals achieve or maintain a healthy weight. Even modest amounts of weight loss of approximately 10 percent of initial body weight can reduce high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol levels, and high blood glucose levels in overweight or obese individuals with high levels. Reducing these risk factors helps to prevent cardiovascular disease and/or reduce its severity in those with existing disease.

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 activities can be incorporated into a variety of programs - nutrition and fitness activities, stress reduction or family life programs, etc. Activities can be adapted for children, youth, adults and seniors.

  • Recreation and park departments and other community organizations receive staff training and resources to integrate heart-healthy activities into existing activities or to develop new activities.

  • Consumer-oriented materials are available to communicate heart-healthy messages related to weight management, physical activity, high blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart disease. In addition, materials targeted to specific populations, such as African Americans and Hispanics, are also available.

  • Evaluation materials to measure the program's impact are included.

  • Hearts N' Parks provides opportunities for community organizations to gain public recognition of their commitment to encouraging healthy behaviors, as well as to develop partnerships to further enrich their activities.

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:

Phone: 301-592-8573
240-629-3255 TTY
Fax: 301-592-8563
E-mail: NHLBIinfo@nhlbi.nih.gov

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