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Motriz: Revista de Educação Física

On-line version ISSN 1980-6574

Motriz: rev. educ. fis. vol.22 no.4 Rio Claro Oct./Dec. 2016 

Original Article

Building an urban park increases the intention of adults to practice physical activity

Raphaelly Machado Felix1 

Vinicius Martins Farias1 

Mauren Lúcia de Araújo Bergmann1 

Gabriel Gustavo Bergmann1  * 

1Universidade Federal do Pampa, Uruguaiana, RS, Brasil


Physical activity levels in adults are low and strategies should be put in place to change this. The aim of this study was to investigate whether building an urban park can increase adult neighborhood residents' intentions to partake in physical activity. In total, 395 adults living near where the park was being built participated in the study. The following information was collected: sociodemographic characteristics, current physical activity levels, and intention to use the park for physical activity. Around 80% of the subjects intended to use the park for physical activity. This frequency was higher among those who were classified as physically active and gradually higher as the distance between the home of the subject and the park decreased (p < 0.05). The offer of a public leisure space can contribute positively to changing population behavior related to regular physical activity.

Keywords physical Activity; leisure activity; urban parks


It has been largely reported that regular practice of physical activity provides health benefits1-5. Despite evidence of the benefits of exercise, the prevalence of physical inactivity is high in Brazil and other developed countries, regardless of gender, age, socioeconomic status, and education3. Therefore, strategies should be developed to offer the population the opportunity to access and practice physical activity2,3.

Urban parks are examples of public spaces that can be used for active recreation. Evidence indicates that the presence of these spaces contributes to increasing the physical activity level of the neighborhood residents6,7. However, it is important to highlight that the functional and physical characteristics of neighborhood parks can influence the choices and possibilities of leisure of individuals, but do not ensure their use for physical activity8-10.

An important characteristic that has been identified is the inverse association between the distance from parks and their use for physical activity11,12. Although in Brazil some such efforts are being undertaken, information on this is scarce and mainly derived from large cities: there are no records of studies related to smaller cities13. Furthermore, the evidence available is from studies analyzing physical activity in existing urban and neighborhood parks. We have no knowledge of studies that have examined the effects of the construction of new public spaces for leisure on the intention of adults for using it for physical activity. This study investigated if the construction of an urban park with leisure purposes can contribute to increasing the intention of neighborhood residents to practice physical activity regularly.


Population and sample

An analytical observational population-based study was conducted with adult subjects (18-64 years old) from the city of Uruguaiana, Brazil, living in the Ipiranga neighborhood, where the completion of the Sports and Culture Park was expected by April 2015. The park was to be a large public space (1034.46 square meters of built area) with numerous recreational possibilities, including: sports court (indoor); skateboarding facilities; outdoor gym; walking path; running track; playground; table games area; reading areas; and venues for cultural events.

The following characteristics were considered for sampling: a) total neighborhood population of 5,328 individuals aged 18-64 years (Census, 2010); b) 95% confidence interval (CI 95%); c) acceptable sampling error of five percentage points; d) prevalence of 50%, and e) 10% increase to compensate for possible losses and refusals. After the adoption of these criteria, 395 individuals were selected.

The selection process was carried out in a multiphase probabilistic way. The six blocks distributed around the park were considered. All houses in the first block (which are located in parallel streets and facing the park) were selected. In the second block the selection process of the houses took place alternately, i.e., when a house was selected, the house immediately next door was left out of the study, and then the next one was again selected. The procedure was the same for the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth blocks: after selecting the first house, the next two, three, four, and five houses were disregarded, respectively. For the streets perpendicular to the park the selection criteria of the houses was the same as for the parallel streets, i.e., alternately and increasing the number of homes not selected as the distance from the park increases. When there was refusal to participate in the study, the house next door was automatically selected, starting the selection procedure of the nearby homes from this house. All individuals meeting the inclusion criteria from the selected households were invited to participate in the study, regardless of the number of people living in each house. The criteria for selecting the first house were: the researcher was positioned in front of the entrance gate of the park, the first house (corner) of the block to the right of the park was selected. This study was reviewed and approved by the Ethics Committee of the Federal University of Pampa (protocol number: 840.171).


The houses selected were visited on weekdays and weekends between 14:00 and 20:00. The researchers presented the objectives, procedures, and criteria for participation in the study. The subjects were interviewed after the explanation and the delivery of the free consent terms, receiving their agreement to sign the document and meeting all the inclusion criteria. The inclusion criteria were to reside next to the Sports and Culture Park in Uruguaiana/RS (up to six blocks away) and to be within the age group of interest (18-64 years old). Exclusion criteria were not being able to perform physical activity because of physical disabilities (self-declared) and having any cognitive limitations that made them unable to answer the instrument questions (cognitive limitations characterized as indicated by a relative, guardian or caregiver).

Variables and data collection instruments

The instrument for data collection consisted of demographic and socioeconomic information, and current practice and intention of practicing physical activity. The demographic information collected was gender (male or female), age (years complete). and distance from the Sports and Culture Park (less than a block away, one, two, three, four, five, or six blocks). Socioeconomic information included family income (number of minimum wages) and education (incomplete primary education, complete primary education, incomplete secondary education, complete secondary education, incomplete higher education and college degree). In order to measure physical activity levels the long version of the International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ) was used14. For the analysis the only information used was from the leisure time physical activity and the results were categorized into two groups: subjects with less than 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week (<150 MVPA) and those with 150 or more minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week (≥150 MVPA).

In order to identify the intention of practicing physical activity a tool for behavior change stages was used15. Briefly, the individuals who claimed to practice regular physical activity or not (yes or no) were identified. In case of a positive response, whether the practice has being carried out for more or less than six months was ascertained. In case of negative answer, whether there was an intention to begin or not was ascertained. If so, whether there was an intention to begin within the next 30 days or not. In addition, a question of intention to practice physical activity in the Sports and Culture Park (after the completion of its construction) was inserted.

Data analysis

Variables were initially described using mean and standard deviation (age), and absolute and relative frequencies (other variables) followed by interval confidence of 95% (IC95%). To test the possible association between physical activity levels, distance from the park and the intention of using it (after its completion) for the practice of physical activity, the chi-square test was used for heterogeneity and trend, respectively. To test these associations adjusted for sex, age, socioeconomic status. and educational level, binary logistic regression was used. The significance level adopted was 0.05 and all analyses were performed using SPSS software version 20.0.


The description of the variables analyzed is presented in Table 1. An average age of 42.05 years old was observed, the majority of the sample were female (64.3%). and 77.7% of the subjects were not sufficiently active in leisure activities. Just over one-quarter of the sample stated they were active. However, 78.5% planned to practice physical activities in the Sports and Culture Park. Many of the samples claimed to live with one minimum wage and more than one-third did not complete elementary school.

Table 1 Description of the variables analyzed from adults aged between 18-65 years, living in the city of Uruguaiana (Brazil) near the Sports and Culture Park. 

Variable N % (CI95%)
Female 254 64,3 (58,4-70,2)
Male 141 35,7 (27,8-43,6)
Age 395 X=42,05 (SD=13,880)
Household income
Less than one minimum wage 15 3,8 (0-13,50)
One minimum wage 169 42,8 (35,3-50,3)
Two minimum wages 134 33,9 (25,9-41,9)
Three minimum wages 53 13,4 (4,2-22,6)
Four minimum wages 21 5,3 (0,43-14,9)
Five minimum wages or more 3 0,8 (0-10,9)
Education level
Incomplete primary education 155 39,2 (31,5-46,9)
Complete primary education 71 18,0 (9,1-26,9)
Incomplete secondary education 35 8,9 (0-18,3)
Complete secondary education 103 26,7 (17,6-34,6)
Incomplete higher education 17 4,3 (0-13,9)
College Degree 14 3,5 (0-13,1)
Distance between from the park
Less than one block 47 11,9 (2,6-21,2)
One block 58 14,7 (5,6-23,8)
Two blocks 79 20,0 (11,2-28,8)
Three blocks 57 14,4 (5,3- 23,5)
Four blocks 54 13,7 (4,5-22,9)
Five blocks 65 16,5 (7,5-25,5)
Six blocks 35 8,9 (0-18,3)
LPA in leisure (IPAQ) 395
<150 MVPA 307 77,7 (73,0-82,4)
≥150 MVPA 88 22,3 (13,6-31,0)
LPA self-declared 395
Inactive 283 71,6 (66,3-76,9)
Active 112 28,4 (20,0-36,8)
Change of behavior stage
Started for over 6 months
Yes 94 83,9 (76,5-91,3)
No 18 16,1 (0-33,1)
Intend to start in the next months
Yes 159 53,2 (48,5-63,9)
No 124 43,8 (35,1-52.5)
Intend to start in the next 30 days
Yes 112 70,4 (61,9-78,9)
No 47 29,6 (16,5-42,7)
Intend to use the park for physical activity
Yes 306 78,5 (74,4-82,6)
No 84 21,5 (17,4-25,6)

n: absolute number of individuals in each variable and category; %: relative frequency; CI95%: confidence interval of 95%.

Table 2 shows the frequency of individuals who intend to use the park for physical activity according to the levels of physical activity in leisure, self-reported physical activity levels, and distance from the park. The frequency of individuals who intend to use the park were significantly higher between those who attending the recommendation for physical activity in leisure (150 minutes or more of MVPA) and who self-reported as active than those who have not reached the recommendation for physical activity and who self-reported as inactive (p < 0.05). Regarding the distance from the park, as the distance increases, the frequency of individuals who intend to use it for physical activity decreases (p < 0.05).

Table 2 Frequency of individuals who intend to use the park to practice physical activity, according to the level of physical activity in leisure estimated by IPAQ and self-declared, and by the distance from the park. 

Intend to use the square for physical activity
Variável N % (CI95%) p
LPA (IPAQ) 390 0,010
≥150 87 88,5 (81,8-95,2)
<150 303 75,6 (70,8-80,4)
LPA self-declared 390 0,000
Inactive 279 73,8 (79,0-68,6)
Active 111 90,1 (95,7-84,5)
Distance from the park 390 0,030
Less than one block 47 87,2 (96,8-77,6)
one block 56 83,9 (93,5-74,3)
two blocks 79 82,3 (90,7-73,9)
three blocks 57 75,4 (86,6-64,2)
four blocks 53 67,9 (80,5-55,3)
five blocks 64 73,4 (84,2-62,6)
six blocks 34 79,4 (93,0-65,8)

Note:n: absolute number of individuals in each level and category; %: relative frequency of individuals who intend to use the park in each category; CI95%: confidence interval of 95%; p: value for p.

The results from bivariate analysis were confirmed after adjustment for gender, age, education, and household income. Individuals who were most active (estimated by the IPAQ and self-declared) and residing closest to the park had increased odds (p <0.05) relative to the intention of using it for physical activity (Table 3).

Table 3 Adjusted association between the level of physical activity in leisure estimated by IPAQ, the level of self-declared physical activity, distance from the Sport and Culture Park and the intention to use it for physical activity in adults (Uruguaiana/RS, 2014). 

OR adjusted (CI95%)
≥150 2.14 (1.03-4.45)
<150 1
LPA self-declared*
Inactive 1
Active 2,95 (1,47-5,93)
Distance from the park** (raise by the number of blocks) 0,87 (0,76-0,99)

OR: odds ratio; CI95%; confidence interval of 95%; LPA: Level of physical activity; ≥150-150 or more minutes of physical activity of moderate to vigorous intensity per week; <150: less than 150 minutes of physical activity of moderate to vigorous intensity per week.

* adjusted for distance from the park, gender, age, education, and family income.

** adjusted for level of physical activity in leisure (IPAQ), self-declared level of physical activity, gender, age, education, and family income.


In this study we identified that the construction of an urban park can encourage an increased level of physical activity of the neighborhood residents. The results indicated that most of the subjects, regardless of their current level of physical activity, intended to use the park to practice physical activity after its construction. Furthermore, the distance from the park influenced its use. As the distance increased, the frequency of participants who intended to use it decreased.

These results are considered important as they indicate that the construction of a neighborhood park with spaces and facilities for physical activity increases the chance of inactive individuals to become active and also assists individuals who are active to remain this way. The results corroborate other studies identifying that the construction of urban and neighborhood parks play a key role in facilitating the practice of physical activity11,16.

The environmental characteristics appear to influence individual behavior change, including the practice of physical activity7,17-19. The existence of parks close to home or within walking distance appears to help make it more attractive for exercising8,20.

Although the existence of parks increases the chances for the local population to engage in physical activity, the distance between these and the residences should be considered. Those living further away from parks use them less often and tend to have lower physical activity levels. In this sense, the present study results are in line with those reported by other authors11,12. In one of these studies the authors suggest that parks with designated areas for physical activity should be located less than a kilometer away from every residence11. This reinforces the hypothesis that the existence of a park nearby is a facilitator for the promotion of physical activity in leisure and reflects directly on discussions about public policies.

Whereas there is currently still little information from studies in Brazil, this study provides an important contribution to a better understanding of the associations between the existence of urban and neighborhood parks and the level of physical activity of adults. However, some possible repercussions about the limitations of this study should be discussed. Physical activity levels were measured with a questionnaire that-while it is an internationally validated instrument used in several studies for this purpose-has limitations due to the subjectivity of the answers, in addition to the interviewee recall bias. The outcome variable of this study, intention to practice physical activity in the park, also brings limitations to the interpretation of the results. It measured the perspective regarding the intention of using the park. However, it did not guarantee that the participants will actually do so. To overcome this limitation, a new study should be conducted after the construction of the park.

In conclusion, urban and neighborhood parks can be facilitators for the practice of physical activity during leisure time. In addition, the proximity of parks is associated with people's intention of using them for physical activity. Joint actions with the government should be planned in order to provide alternatives so that the level of physical activity of the population increases.


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Received: February 25, 2016; Accepted: May 08, 2016

*Corresponding author: Gabriel Gustavo Bergmann. UNIPAMPA - Campus Uruguaiana.

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