In the city of Ocala, located in Marion County, FL, a new initiative around health, fitness, and wellness is proving beneficial to local residents. A new outdoor fitness park, the Health Happens Outdoor Fitness and Walking Trail, located at the Marion County McPherson Complex, is providing the community with an outlet to get fresh air and exercise in the park any time of day.
The initiative began when Sheri Wiley, Risk Benefit Manager for Marion County, set about forming a Wellness Committee to look at ways they might mitigate health costs and promote overall healthy activity for city employees. With the main hub of Marion County government, including the Division of Motor Vehicles, Facilities Management offices, Fire Services, Florida Highway Patrol, Parks and Recreation, Human Resources, and government officials located next to the Marion County McPherson Complex, the location seemed to be the perfect place to encourage employees to get outside in the temperate Florida climate. Its close proximity to the library, businesses, and transportation also made it an ideal location for maximizing use among residents. Wiley, who had seen the benefit of local health screenings in creating health awareness, worked with the benefit staff to administer the program, and also got local insurance company Florida Blue on board to help fund a position to lead the newly formed Wellness Committee. The committee, headed up by Wellness Coordinator Brittney Bruner worked with Wiley to examine the most effective way to bring change and encourage healthy activity. The team decided on outdoor fitness as the best place to start. According to Wiley, “Outdoor fitness provides a convenient and cost effective way of incorporating physical activity into an individual’s lifestyle. The Wellness Program seeks to provide various avenues for improving overall quality of life in a convenient manner.”
Wiley’s summation is proving to be true. In outdoor fitness parks across the US, people are coming outdoors to utilize no-cost fitness equipment, and reap the benefits of fresh air and nature in a non-intimidating environment to help meet individual health goals. From trails to clusters to fitness parks overlooking playgrounds, outdoor adult fitness parks are one of the largest growing segments of park equipment today. Research published in the guidebook, “Outdoor Adult Fitness Parks, Best Practices for Promoting Community Health by Increasing Physical Activity” shows that people who work out outdoors tend to work out longer than those who exercise indoors, as well as demonstrate increased adherence to regular exercise, thereby driving positive health behavior change. Outdoor exercise also promotes increased mental, physical, and physiological well-being, decreases in tension and anxiety, and a greater feeling of revitalization.
Wiley added, “Our outdoor fitness facility would be available at no cost to our community and our employees 24 hours a day, 7 days per week, and was one way we could provide our employees with convenient physical activity options.” Wiley tasked the Wellness Committee with researching options for equipment and design, overseeing creation of the space, and ensuring that there were opportunities for both wellness education and fitness in the park.
The committee, in collaboration with the Marion County Parks and Recreation Department collaborated on a park partnership grant, and researched equipment that would provide maximum health benefit and exercise options for individuals at various levels of fitness. The goal was to create a space that was usable by anyone who was interested. The team selected UltraSite’s Action Fit line through a procurement process, due to its variety of equipment to suit people of all abilities, and its durability in outdoor environments. Ultra Site also offered an opportunity for the site to qualify for National Demonstration Site status through a program offered by its parent company PlayCore, which would provide the community with recognition for its dedication to fitness and providing a space designed to meet the four areas of a well-rounded workout: cardio development, muscle strength, core strength, and balance/flexibility. Research has shown that in order to reap maximum health benefits, a fitness routine must contain a variety of elements, each offering specific results for overall health. By considering these elements in the overall design plan, a community can provide a well-rounded fitness routine that promotes opportunities for health improvement and active lifestyles.
The local UltraSite representative, DeWitt Gibbs with Bliss Products, worked closely with the Wellness Committee to develop the fitness area as part of a 1.75 mile walking trail, with 12 pieces of equipment designed to develop healthy behavior across the fitness spectrum. Signage on the equipment, along with QR codes, provides instruction so that anyone can clearly understand how to use it. The Parks and Recreation Department also created a welcome sign that is positioned near the equipment cluster. The sign illustrates the pieces of equipment and shows which of the elements of fitness they meet. It provides exercise descriptions, links to demonstration videos, and describes safety measures so people know exactly what to expect as they use the equipment. The sign also describes the wellness program to help drive community awareness.
The fitness site offers a complete and comprehensive workout in several ways. Aerobic exercise, also known as cardio or endurance activity, is the cornerstone of most fitness programs, and can be achieved by walking or jogging along the trail, as well as by using the cardio walker, upright cycle, recumbent cycle, elliptical machine, and hand cyclein the fitness cluster. By promoting aerobic fitness, the residents of the community engage the heart, lungs, and blood vessels, helping the efficiency of each.
Muscle fitness, another key component of a complete fitness program, is achieved through thechest press, leg press, lat pull down, and chin up stations to provide resistance training that helps to increase muscle fitness and bone strength. Muscle fitness also helps in daily life, as lifting, climbing stairs, and other tasks become easier when muscle strength and conditioning is improved. A review article by the University of Michigan, published in the American Journal of Medicine shows that after an average of 18-20 weeks of progressive resistance training, an adult can add 2 ½ pounds of lean muscle to their body mass and increase overall strength by 25-30%. This is especially important when you consider that sedentary adults over the age of 50 can lose muscle mass at a rate of .04lbs each year.
Users of the Health Happens trail can also develop core strength by working their abdominal, pelvic, and back regions on the captain’s chair and sit up station. Since core exercises can help train muscles to brace the spine and are the connectors that enable people to use upper and lower body muscles more effectively, it is easy to understand why this is another element of a good workout.
The trail also addresses balance and flexibility with the addition of the balance board, plyo box, and back extension stations. Equipment to train balance and flexibility are most commonly overlooked in outdoor fitness spaces, but play a critical role in overall health and fitness. By training to develop balance and flexibility, older Americans can help reduce the risk of falls. All people can realize improvements in balance, range of motion, posture, coordination, and athletic ability, which contribute to fewer injuries and greater stability. All of the equipment also offers secondary benefits as well, so people are working in a cross training discipline to improve overall health.
The site was opened June 27 of 2014, has been extremely well received by both the county employees and the community, and is continually growing in popularity. Users providing feedback on the fitness park have agreed that the equipment is easy to use, beneficial to the community at large, and have also noted how much they like the scenic trail and the way it winds through the trees at the park. The Wellness Committee plans to grow participation by promoting the National Demonstration Site designation through e-mail, social media, local news outlets, and to employees on their intranet. Katrina Gillette, who is succeeding Bruner as the Wellness Committee head, is already working on classes to provide fitness education in a group setting, in order to “make it even more user friendly, so people can stop by, get a quick workout, and use the space in different ways.”