Let’s face it, they aren’t just a fad; Outdoor Adult Fitness Parks are a fast growing trend that provide a great way to get in a workout. Adult exercise equipment installed in the great outdoors is usually free to use, promotes fresh air and Vitamin D generating sunshine, and doesn’t have the “intimidation factor” that indoor gyms and fitness clubs can have for exercise beginners.
Research shows that exercising outdoors has many benefits that may not be realized in an indoor environment. People with greater access to green environments exhibit better well-being and functioning scores in social, physical, and psychological domains.1 In addition, there is research2 showing that outdoor exercise:
- Can prevent certain diseases
- Improves adherence rates to exercise
- Provides greater feelings of revitalization and positive enjoyment
- Decreases tension, confusion, anger, and depression
- Increases energy
- Helps seniors reach higher levels of physical activity
So why don’t more people get out and exercise? At the recent 2014 Conference on the Value of Play held at Clemson University, adult attendees shared knowledge on play for people of all ages and abilities, while taking time to put their knowledge into practice by participating in games, outdoor exercise, and even dancing. The people in attendance all had a youthful exuberance and penchant to move that does not seem to be shared by the general populace today. In fact, recent data from the United Health Foundation shows the growth of sedentary adults (percentage who report doing no physical activity or exercise other than their regular job in the last 30 days) is more than just alarming; it is an epidemic. Because sedentary behavior can lead to obesity and many other health issues, it is important that we find ways to provide people with a compelling reason to get moving.
So how can we get more people out and exercising? One way is to let them know where to go. Communities are adding outdoor adult fitness parks as a way to encourage adults to get healthy, playful exercise and are excited at the responses from the community. At an outdoor fitness park recently added to the Roswell, GA, park system, adults are using the equipment to increase functional fitness, ensuring that life tasks, like carrying groceries or running for a bus, are more easily achievable. The park is free to users and meets the elements of a well-rounded workout, providing opportunities to increase aerobic fitness, core strength, muscle development, and balance/flexibility. Joe Glover, Director of Roswell Recreation, Parks, Historic and Cultural Affairs Department, commented, “We installed the equipment at the trailhead of our most active trail system. The participants have given us extremely positive feedback on what a great addition it is to the park.”
To help let people know where to go to find a similar facility, PlayCore has undertaken the gargantuan task of creating a map of outdoor fitness locations to help users find facilities near them. The company is asking everyone to help them create a comprehensive map of outdoor adult fitness sites by adding adult fitness parks known to them by accessing www.playcore.com/fitness. Contributors can use the easy form to add the name, location, and amenities for outdoor fitness parks near them, and then upload a photo to help users visualize the location. The form also asks what typology is used, for instance a cluster, trail, or jointly located with a playground, so users can identify the layout before they go.
Joint use fitness areas, those that are located near a playground, may be a great way to get parents more active while at the playground. Rather than just heading to a bench and sitting while children play, these clusters of fitness equipment provide parents and caregivers with a way to keep an eye on the kids while setting a good example for them through their own exercise. At a park opened 18 months ago in the El Sereno Arroyo Park in Los Angeles, parents, caregivers, and adults can be found using the fitness equipment located by the playground. Since the park is located in an underserved area, it is unlikely that the adults would belong to a gym, or travel great distances to be able to exercise, so the space provides a much needed service. The play space and adult fitness park provides people of all ages the opportunity to exercise in an age appropriate way, and increase overall health, fitness, and mobility.
Trails are also a great infrastructure to build opportunities for enhanced exercise. At Warner Park in Chattanooga TN, a series of adult fitness stations were added along a trail at a park where a playground, zoo, ball field complex, and splash park were already drawing family traffic. One of the parents interviewed at the site noted, “we come here as a family – the kids go to the zoo or the water park, then we walk the fitness trail – my husband and I use the equipment while our kids play in the grassy areas. Its great fun for all and we leave feeling like we had a great family day.”
Another fun family trail was recently completed in Laurel FL. Called “Generation Play” by the team of Florida orthopaedic surgeons who championed the project, the trail is located in Laurel Park, a centrally located space with a community center, playground, tennis courts, and trail. The team installed play pockets along the trail, fun clusters of playful, nature themed equipment that promoted learning with signage and fun activities. To ensure that adults also felt compelled to play, fitness equipment was also included near the play area so parents and adults had something active to do before moving along the trail to the next stop. Adam Bright, the President of the Florida Orthopaedic Society who championed the project added, “As an orthopaedic surgeon, I’ve seen the benefits of physical exercise. The patients I see who exercise regularly are generally more happy and able to enjoy a more active lifestyle.”
So whatever your fitness level or goals may be, make it a point this month to try getting outside to exercise, exchange a 30 minute TV program with a walk in your neighborhood, find an outdoor fitness park (or add one) at www.playcorecom/fitness and go get a workout in, find likeminded people in your neighborhood, family, or at your place of employment and set some time to exercise as a team. Take your kids out to enjoy exercise together, thereby planting the seeds for future generations of healthy people. There’s no denying the research, fitness and play are good at any age!
1 Kuo, F.E., Parks and other green environments: ‘Essential components of a healthy human habitat’. Australasian Parks and Leisure, 2011. 14(1): p. 10.
2 PlayCore, Outdoor Adult Fitness Parks, Best Practices for Promoting Community Health by Increasing Physical Activity. PlayCore 2013 p. 15-16.
Ms Spencer, I'm going to contact you about doing this in my community, your ongoing knowledge and articles are always so incredibly informative, Im happy to see you have expertise in this area. We have seen some examples of this kind of space that are not well thought out. Thanks for your columns, look forward to a conversation