Feature Article - September 2016
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Building Healthier Communities

The Ins and Outs of Outdoor Fitness Areas

By Dave Ramont


Par for the Course

The first official fitness trail or parcourse can be traced back to 1968 in Zurich, Switzerland. From there, the trend spread to other parts of Europe and the United States by the early 1970s. The paths were "equipped with obstacles or stations distributed along their length for exercising the human body to promote good health." Sometimes the obstacles consisted of natural features including climbable rocks, trees and river embankments. Other times they featured manufactured products like stepping posts, chin-up bars and sit-up benches.

TPL's Benepe said they're still seeing parcourses where you have exercise stations along a trail, which are popular with hikers, bikers and joggers. "In a number of cases we've installed Fitness Zones where the trail begins and ends, so people can do a loop and do some of the stations that involve things like sit-ups and chin-ups and then they can end with a full workout, so they can do some weight-bearing exercise at the end of their cardio workout."

Recently, TPL opened its first green-infrastructure installation in Miami, the first of six Fitness Zones to be funded through a grant from TD Bank. It features rain gardens, newly-planted trees, light-colored surfaces, and permeable pavement to help mitigate flooding, increase water quality, improve air quality and reduce surface temperatures.

Mendelsohn explained how outdoor fitness parks are spreading to alternative venues—senior centers, military bases, schools, hospitals, etc.—and how new, innovative equipment is being made available all the time. He pointed to his company's newly-designed leg press, which is capable of accommodating four people, allowing "four strangers to exercise comfortably without any intimidation, making it a fantastic social activity." In fact, he calls the fitness parks "inclusive, social activity centers," pointing out that they serve an "exceptionally wide demographic including both able and disabled members of the community."

Wiechmann shares this sentiment, adding that "It's exciting to see how outdoor fitness brings together different members of a community, regardless of their age race or socioeconomic status. Outdoor fitness doesn't just make people stronger, it makes communities stronger."