HORIZONS: On the move with Fitness Zones

February 12, 2012

In some communities, the hardest thing about hitting the gym isn't finding the energy-it's finding the gym. They're called fitness deserts: neighborhoods where safe spaces to exercise are too few, too far, or too expensive.

In places like these, residents suffer from higher rates of obesity-related illnesses, including heart disease and diabetes. To combat these effects, The Trust for Public Land is pioneering an innovative approach that helps make the most of city parks: Fitness Zones®.

Installed at parks and recreation centers, Fitness Zones include specially designed outdoor exercise equipment that park-goers of all ages can use for free.

The Trust for Public Land's William Lorenzen oversaw the groundbreaking of Florida's first Fitness Zone in the Campbell Park neighborhood of St. Petersburg earlier this month. The installation features nine different pieces of equipment, from traditional pull-up bars to a skiing machine and a four-person leg press.

"They're user-friendly machines," says Lorenzen. "You use your own body weight to help you get a resistance workout.  It's intuitive and it's fun."

The new Florida program is slated to expand to more than a dozen locations in St. Petersburg, Lake Worth, and Miami. The vision draws on The Trust for Public Land's success in Los Angeles, where Fitness Zones get rave reviews from community members and park officials alike.

With 29 sites already up and running, the Los Angeles Fitness Zone team has developed a unique expertise in maximizing the benefits of the equipment-making sure that it's accessible from sidewalks, for example, and close enough to playgrounds that parents can keep an eye on children as they work out.

The attention to detail has paid off. A study of the Los Angeles Fitness Zones by the RAND Corporation found that visitors to sites featuring TPL's outdoor gym equipment burned more calories and were more likely to report being new park users.

"Not only did the Fitness Zones attract new users to the park, they created an atmosphere of activity," says Los Angeles Program Director Carolyn Ramsay. "It was great confirmation that the work we're doing was having an impact."

In the video below, Los Angeles residents tell how Fitness Zones have changed how they use their local park. You'll hear from park users, Trust for Public Land staff, and city partners-and get a glimpse of what's ahead for the Florida Fitness Zones on the horizon.

For more on parks and community health, check out the in-depth report from our Center for City Park Excellence: From Fitness Zones to the Medical Mile: How Urban Park Systems Can Best Promote Health and Wellness.