Most people accept the overwhelming evidence that the general level of physical fitness in the United States has declined while the health risks of obesity are growing. Other studies note that we spend less time outdoors than ever.
It is a joy to see the happiness and agility of young people playing creatively on the playgrounds and sports fields outdoors. But all too soon, this natural playfulness gives way to adulthood. Playgrounds and outdoor recreation areas should not only be the province of the child, but territory for people of all ages to engage in fun and health. Physical fitness should be maintained throughout one’s entire life, and can be optimized by opportunities to be outdoors and physically active.
All of us know that exercise is good for us, but still, a majority of adults and many children lead sedentary lifestyles and are not active enough to achieve the health benefits of exercise. We are now in the midst of a widespread fitness and health crisis which greatly affects the well-being and productivity of our nation. The United States Department of Human Services and the American Heart Association have estimated that the cost of preventative health consequences due to obesity alone amounts to $254 billion per year. If current trends in the growth of obesity continue, total annual healthcare costs attributed to obesity could reach $957 billion by 2030, which would account for almost 20% of all health expenditures in the United States (source, American Heart Association). Obesity has surpassed smoking as a health risk and has now adversely affected more people than alcoholism or poverty. It is linked to large increases in chronic medical conditions and significantly ever rising financial health expenditures.
The outdoor fitness equipment movement has seen a phenomenal response from schools who wish to add a fitness element to their existing playground environments. City parks and recreation organizations, who have found that funding indoor fitness centers can be financially prohibitive and limiting to some people, have understood that outdoor fitness and recreation areas can be enjoyed by all. Military institutions have installed the equipment to enhance their training and fitness levels. Many senior housing centers are advancing the fitness of their residents. The corporate world is choosing to offer fitness opportunities for their employees and express their well-founded concerns for health. Many apartment buildings and homeowners associations are adding an outdoor fitness component as well. Of course, there is also a strong response from fire, police, and municipal organizations.
In 2012, New York City took the initiative to install several playgrounds for adults using outdoor fitness stations. They have plans to bring over two dozen more to neighborhoods across all boroughs. Miami-Dade County in Florida opened several outdoor fitness zones in neighborhoods with high rates of cardiovascular disease. San Antonio, Texas has added outdoor fitness stations to over 30 of their existing parks. Drake Hougo, working toward his Eagle Scout Merit Badge, brought together Boy Scout Troop 2222 to install a fitness zone in Santa Clarita, California over the course of a Memorial Day weekend.\
An organization can build a multi-station fitness area for as little as $5,000. With a community organization providing access to the public this variety of fitness experience can have a more dramatic impact on the nation’s fitness than the indoor gym, which is expensive to build and therefore discourages full access to the community because of often hefty monthly dues.
There is also a concern that the indoor gym environment tends to be intimidating to those people who aren’t in the best shape. Dr. David Ludwig, a Harvard Medical School professor who directs the Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, remarked to The New York Times, “Let’s face it, most of us dread going to the gym. The point is to make physical activity fun, easy and accessible, so it’s the normal thing to do.”
The outdoor fitness approach is to make fitness enjoyable and free of charge to all people. Everyone can benefit from a relaxed approach to fitness in a pleasant outdoor environment. Outdoor fitness equipment goes along well with walking, jogging, and many other outdoor activities and shares the enjoyment of fresh air.
The equipment can be installed as a cluster of outdoor exercise stations in an outside gym, on a fitness playground, or spaced along a fitness trail. It is effective for all ages, from elementary school children to senior citizens. The equipment is constructed with heavy gauge steel and will withstand the elements and years of continuous use. It fits in perfectly for a rural setting, urban community, or military fitness training facility. A selection of 6 to 10 or more pieces of equipment can provide a complete workout. An ever growing selection of equipment provides a complete fitness and recreational facility, building upper body, leg, and back strength, enhancing agility, flexibility, endurance, and cardiovascular health.
Today, we all realize that fitness activities and an active lifestyle are essential to improved health, longevity, and the enjoyment of life. The biggest obstacles remain personal motivation and available opportunities.
The challenge is to provide greater health, fitness, and recreation opportunities for everybody. The avid fitness enthusiasts will benefit, but importantly, the 80% of Americans who engage in little or no physical activity – those who are not likely to belong to expensive gyms – can have access to a fitness facility and get active in most cases free-of-charge. And even better, it’s fun! The future is bright, and we hope everyone will get outside and enjoy some fitness gains and enhance their health and well-being.
About The Author
Barry King is the founder of Outdoor Fitness, Inc. Previously he served as Director of Marketing and Communication for the U.S. Olympic Committee, helping finance U.S. Olympic Teams from 1988 to 2002. He is the author of the two-volume book series, “The Olympic Challenge.” King competed in the Decathlon at the 1972 Olympic Games and earned bronze and silver medals at the Commonwealth Games.