With Healthy Parks app, logging into nature has never been so easy

By Hannah Rines, Studio M staff //

We’re often told to log off and get some fresh air, but the Healthy Parks Healthy Persons program (HPHP) has made getting fresh air something people want to, well, log.  

On the HPHP website, users can create accounts and log activities they participate in while inside the parks, whether it’s hiking, fishing, biking, kayaking, camping, rock-climbing or nature walking. Completing a certain number of hours can earn points to redeem for a reward. The more points earned, the larger the reward, which can range from gift-shop merchandise to golf rounds or free cabin rentals.

Big Branch Falls photographed April 25, 2017. (Photo by Tim Lumley)

While at first only national parks had qualifying activities, now Healthy Parks Healthy Persons has adopted activities in all Tennessee state parks.

“(Foot traffic in the parks) is extremely important. I think in today’s crazy society, people need to reconnect with nature, and it’s a wonderful opportunity to do that,” said Fred Weiser, a park ranger who has put in over 20 years at Tennessee’s Smoky Mountain National Park.

Tennessee State Parks house some of the state’s most natural wonders and diverse range of activities. Hunter Ward, a 21-year-old MTSU student and avid mountain biker, spends most weekends with his dog, Luna Lovegood, on the trails at Long Hunter State Park and Montgomery Bell State Park.

Being an exercise science major, Hunter already keeps track of his physical activities and the food he puts into his body.  

“I wouldn’t mind tracking the time I spend biking. It wouldn’t hurt, at least.  But if I could get a reward like a cabin stay, that would be super cool, because I don’t think I’d go stay in a cabin otherwise,” said Ward.  

He adds, “I’m originally from Texas, so trails up here are so much different than back home, but it’s beautiful, man. I’ve never seen so many trees and leaves everywhere.  I know that sounds lame, but it’s something people can take for granted.”

According to The State of Obesity, a project of the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Tennessee has the sixth highest adult obesity rate in the country with a current obesity rate of almost 35 percent. Almost 22 percent are 18 to 25-years-old and 38 percent are 26 to 44-years-old.

Not only does HPHP encourage traffic in the park, it’s also a place where doctors can now prescribe and monitor something called “Park Prescriptions.”  Park Prescriptions are a way doctors and physicians can prescribe physical activity to patient, and HPHP participants have the options to log and keep track of their progress.

“Providers always tell you, ‘You need to walk more’ or ‘You need to exercise more,’ but they just tell you that.  And then you go on your way, and you don’t do what they say,” said Maureen Nokes, Director of Nursing and Clinical Services at MTSU.

She adds, “But I think if my own doctor said ‘You need to go to this park three times a day, you need to walk,’ I probably would follow it more than if it was just an ‘Oh, by the way, you need to exercise more.’ So, I think this is a great idea.”

According to the National Park Services, Tennessee State Parks receive around 25 million visitors annually. The app gives all ages and abilities the opportunity to get outside and get active in any of Tennessee’s 54 state parks.

Hannah Rines studies journalism at Middle Tennessee State University.

Studio M, a project of the College of Media and Entertainment at MTSU, allows student journalists to be published statewide and nationwide. It’s made possible through grants and donations from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Tennessean and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.