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Guest Column - September 2008

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Fitness & Exercise: Making Fitness Available to All

By Joanne Eglash


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merica is experiencing a health crisis, not due to low income or lack of education. Ironically, our obesity epidemic results from the so-called benefits of an advanced nation: technology that enables us to be entertained from the comfort of our living rooms and ready-to-eat meals and snacks.

That epidemic attacks all ages, all income levels, and all education levels. As a recreation professional, you have the power to make a difference. Research has shown that every age group benefits from exercise. Yet for many individuals, membership in a health club or gym is not an option. It may be for financial reasons, time constraints or, for parents, the need to supervise children or teens during the time that would otherwise be spent in exercise.

Introducing the Solution: The Outdoor Gym

The environmentally friendly solution? Creating a free outdoor gym in a community park or community center. Envision an outdoor fitness zone adjacent to playground equipment, where people of all ages and backgrounds come together to improve their physical and emotional health through the joy of outdoor exercise.

Think it's an impossible dream? Consider a recent case study from five parks in California's San Gabriel Valley. The installation of outdoor fitness equipment at these parks resulted from a partnership of The Trust for Public Land (TPL), Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina and Kaiser Permanente through grants and sponsorship. The result is a public area that residents greeted with delight, regarding it as a free outdoor gym available within a few blocks of their homes. Focusing outdoor gyms within the communities and neighborhoods where children and teens are at greatest risk of diseases caused by overweight and a lack of activity, like Type 2 diabetes, helps establish a commitment to helping fight childhood obesity.

The irony: making fitness equipment available to communities to improve their health and well-being is not a new concept overseas. For example, throughout Europe, you will find adult playgrounds opened specifically to benefit adults and seniors. As a result, parents and grandparents flock to these outdoor exercise areas, delighted to discover a way to benefit their health while the children play next to them in the playground section.

In addition, consider the shocking statistics on the dangers of obesity, most of which are prevented and or mitigated through exercise:

  • In 1999, 13 percent of children aged 6 to 11 years and 14 percent of adolescents aged 12 to 19 years in the United States were overweight. This prevalence has nearly tripled for adolescents in the past two decades.
  • Risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, occur with increased frequency in overweight children and adolescents compared to children with a healthy weight.
  • Type 2 diabetes, previously considered an adult disease, has increased dramatically in children and adolescents. Overweight and obesity are closely linked to Type 2 diabetes.
  • Overweight adolescents have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults. This increases to 80 percent if one or more parent is overweight or obese.
  • Overweight or obese adults are at risk for a number of health problems including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and some forms of cancer.