How parks make us healthier

Master Plan created a city of villages, each with an abundance of parks near schools and homes

by TOM BERG

Turns out, Irvine is one of the healthiest cities in America.

Why? Is it our weather? Our doctors? Our ocean air?

One answer is right under our feet: Parks.

A recent analysis shows that if you live within a 10-minute walk to a park, you’re likely to be healthier. And happier.

“Parks are key to good, healthy cities,” says Adrian Benepe, senior vice president of the Trust for Public Land — especially parks that are a short walk from where you live.

Irvine has more than 260 parks — just 172 steps, on average, from wherever you live.

The health benefits of this are striking. Research shows that even a 10-minute walk can improve memory, learning and physical fitness, while reducing weight, stress and risk of chronic disease.

Up to 40 percent of our health is determined by physical environment including parks, open space and nature, according to the Trust for Public Land’s health director, Hanaa Hamdi.

“There is a significant amount of research that demonstrates nature’s significance in reducing stress levels,” she says.

Proximity to parks is such a game changer that the trust has launched a “10 Minute Walk” campaign encouraging cities to ensure that every resident is within a 10-minute walk to a park.

The average Irvine resident has a two-minute walk to a park.

That’s by design. Irvine’s Master Plan created a city of villages, each with an abundance of parks near schools and homes — and often connected by trails and paths.

As a result, one-third of the city — more than 16,000 acres — has been permanently preserved as parks and open space.

The Trust for Public Land’s Park Score 2018 ranks Irvine’s park system in the top 10 of the U.S., and No. 1 in Southern California.

That means that Irvine is not only the safest city in America. It’s one of the healthiest cities too.