Guest Column - May 2012
Find a printable version here


Take It Outside
Bringing Indoor Fitness Outdoors

By Tom Casey

While there's nothing new about comprehensive fitness equipment, such as ellipticals and arm-presses, there is something new about where you can use them—outside! Long past are the days of simple pushup and sit-up stations traditionally found on fitness trails. Today's outdoor fitness equipment can be found in a wide variety of settings, and in addition to fitness, offers tremendous social and multi-generational wellness benefits.

First-Time Fitness

Despite seemingly endless news stories dealing with obesity, sedentary lifestyles and general health issues, only 10 percent of the population actually uses indoor fitness centers. While reasons include busy lifestyles or lack of funds for membership, the biggest hurdle for many is simply intimidation. The thought of working out next to somebody more physically advanced is daunting enough for people to disregard taking that first step to a healthier lifestyle.

Today's outdoor fitness equipment gives people comparable fitness benefits, at their own pace, on their own schedule and with no dues requirements. More importantly, as the majority of users are part of that 90 percent not using indoor fitness centers, outdoor equipment actually fosters "First Time Fitness" to those who otherwise would not have the time, inclination or financial resources to take advantage of indoor rec centers and health clubs.

While not designed to take the place of fitness benefits that can only be derived from the equipment and training at indoor centers, outdoor equipment focuses more on general flexibility, cardio and muscle strengthening. Acting as "first-time fitness magnets," outdoor fitness equipment helps introduce and engage the population in healthy lifestyle habits.

It's not unusual to see colorful playgrounds and site amenities in parks and other public spaces. Outdoor fitness equipment not only offers new amenity options, but also provides a strong social component in bringing people from all demographics together under the umbrella of fun and fitness.

A recent visit to an outdoor fitness zone in a Los Angeles public park included more than a dozen adults ranging in ages from late 20s to early 70s. Moms with kids in strollers parked next to arm-press machines, 60-year-olds chatting with 30-year-olds as they operated multi-user leg-press machines, passersby out for a walk in the park stopping to look at (and try out) the equipment.

In most cases these people would not be considered physically "fit" from any traditional definition. In addition to the fitness benefits derived from using the equipment, more important was their engaging in a comprehensive exercise activity—maybe for the first time in their lives—giving them an improved sense of self-confidence and self-image.

The Science

In addition to traditional benefits gained from fitness equipment usage, outdoor exercise offers nutritional and mental health benefits as well. Sunshine and fresh air helps address osteoporosis and vitamin D deficiencies, with normal levels of vitamin D being attained by simply being in sunlight for as little as 10 minutes a few times a week. Mental health studies have long touted the decreased tension and depression levels that come simply from being outside, with more current studies showing improvement in mood and sense of well-being. Studies specific to outdoor exercise suggest that in addition to the air being cleaner than indoors, the variety of scenery helps break the tedium of an indoor facility workout.