It's summertime! The weather is nice, children are out of school and families are beginning to plan vacations. Most people spend their outdoors time each summer in the park especially around Fourth of July and Labor Day. While going to the park on holidays is a tradition for so many, it is more important than ever that people visit parks frequently to take advantage of the health benefits they bring.

When the dust settles on 2013, state and national parks will count approximately 1 billion visitors. Remarkably most of those visits -- about 740 million of them -- will be to the 7,000 "close to home" state parks that are America's favorite destinations for outdoor recreation and relaxation. Parks provide a place for people to hike, bike, paddle, swim, fish, camp, picnic and create lasting memories with family and friends. For parents, you and your children can benefit from getting exercise and therapy for the mind, body and spirit.

As it is well established, our country faces serious health challenges, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions. About 12.5 million children and adolescents are obese, millions have high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes is on the rise and more than 7 million children have asthma. Health experts have predicted that this may be the first generation in modern history where kids may not outlive their parents. Inactive, sedentary lifestyles and a disconnect from nature are driving factors in all of this.

We have a national crisis. It's past time to do something about it and parks should be a natural "ally" in our fight to overcome these ills. Recent study findings show that spending as little as five minutes outdoors has a positive impact on physical and mental health. We have to start encouraging people to visit their favorite parks to find fun ways to get active. And it doesn't have to be complicated -- you can start planning a summer full of park visits now! Get back to basics and organize a good hike in the woods or bike ride on a scenic trail with family and friends. State parks, and others, are affordable, close to home and showcase natural, cultural and recreational treasures that help us achieve our pursuit of happiness.

Getting active outdoors this summer can not only improve your health, but it can also help improve your favorite park. For the fourth year in a row, Coca-Cola is asking people to be active in the park as part of the America Is Your Park campaign. America's State Parks Foundation is partnering with Coke to challenge all Americans to "Take It To The Park" to rediscover the joy of being active outdoors. You can turn your favorite activities into votes to help your park win a $100,000 recreation grant for improvements and the title of "America's Favorite Park."

This campaign hits two birds with one stone. It helps push us all to get active outdoors to improve our collective health. And it allows us to improve the spaces that we love by providing equipment to ensure that people can get active for years to come.

We all have a role to play in helping overcome our country's health woes. And it all starts with getting active. Programs like America Is Your Park represent a great public/private partnership that recognizes that the American experience is enhanced when we all come together for the common good of everyone.

Voting ends July 15, so visit for more on how you can get active on behalf of your favorite park.

Have a fun and active summer!

Joe Elton is president of America’s State Parks Foundation. This blog originally appeared on