Photo by FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH, PINELLAS COUNTY
More than 20 parks in Pinellas County, Florida, have Fitness Zones that people can use to get in shape and spend time outdoors. The zones are free (no need to join a gym or buy home equipment), open to anyone during park hours and are easy to use.
Each zone offers an array of outdoor exercise equipment designed to promote coordination, balance and flexibility as well as cardiovascular health. The low-impact, joint-friendly workout stations (elliptical cross trainers, sit-up benches, vertical press machines) are weatherproof and vandal-resistant. Some Fitness Zones have wheelchair-accessible equipment.
Outdoor gyms in public parks have long been popular in many Asian countries and parts of Europe, but the idea was slow to catch on in the United States.
Then the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit with a mission to create “parks for people,” launched the Fitness Zones program. The organization (which AARP partnered with on the free guide Creating Parks and Public Spaces for People of All Ages,) helps cities and counties pay for the development of the Fitness Zones and secure matching funds from other sources.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 5 American adults doesn’t get enough exercise and, as a result, is at a higher risk for heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and depression.
For most adults, the CDC recommends about two and a half hours of brisk walking spread out over a week, with muscle-building exercises added on two of the days. Fitness Zones are just what the doctor ordered.
The zones are also an exercise in community- building. “That’s what defines them,” says Adrian Benepe of the Trust for Public Land. “You can be outdoors with friends and neighbors.”
Pinellas County and other areas have found Fitness Zones to be an effective weapon against loneliness, isolation and depression. Since the zones and the parks where they’re housed offer something for everyone, they’re a great way for people to meet their neighbors, make friends, and connect with their children, grandchildren and other younger people.
And maybe even train for an upcoming 5K.
This article is an excerpt from the "Support Health and Wellness" chapter of the AARP book Where We Live: Communities for All Ages — 100+ Inspiring Examples From America’s Community Leaders. Download or order your free copy.
Book published June 2018