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More Than Just a Walk in the Park: Parks as Fitness Centers

Rising rates of child and adult obesity worldwide has inspired a movement to improve overall public physical health by walk-ability and connectivity of streets in neighborhoods around the world. Sedentary lifestyles and lack of daily physical activity poses a number of health-related risk factors including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and other serious problems. The National Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate physical exercise per week, noting brisk walking as a potential activity to facilitate meeting this goal. So often we find ourselves so caught up in the daily grind that we forget to meet one of most important and most basic human needs. Cities and indoor spaces are inundated with generic, man-made items, while parks allow for a connection to the natural environment, otherwise known as biophilia. Neighborhood parks promote mental and physical health, by providing social, physical, psychological, and cognitive benefits to users by allowing space for play, exercise, socializing, and other activities. A simple walk through the park can also reduce stress, increase meditation, and increase tranquility and calmness. Best of all? Most parks are completely free.

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Turn any park into a gym. Image via Men’s Fitness.

While a brisk stroll through the park provides one with a variety of health benefits, the potential for parks as fitness activity centers are virtually endless. Parks are not just for children; they can act as an outdoor gym when the facilities are used to promote fitness and exercise. This allows the park to function as an activity center alternative to the conventional and often expensive indoor gymnasium. There is the obvious spaces for basketball or tennis in many parks, but even the most limited and small space can contribute to a healthier lifestyle. Its all about rethinking your amenities. Stairs are great for repetitive aerobic climbing and walls can be use for balance and strength exercises such as chair sits or presses. Trees can make great markers for sprinting drills across open, grassy spaces. Benches are great for taking a quick rest, but can also help build upper body strength when you use them to do arm dips. Not only can working out in the park allow you to take in some warm rays and clean air, it can also help you burn hundreds of calories per hour.

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Most phone books and city websites have maps that designate all of their local parks with the amenities noted, and most cities try to provide open space within a walkable distance, eliminating the need for driving to your activity site, thereby increasing your amount of physical activity. Studies have also found that days spent exercising outside lead to a greater use of energy the rest of the day, meaning your body continues to burn more calories after an outdoor workout. Research further suggests that even a short five minute walk outside, regardless of weather conditions can help increase mood, coping abilities, and improve self esteem.

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Using the park for your gym and daily exercise is also a great option for frequent travelers. You can’t always take your gym equipment with you, but you can usually find a open space or park in just about any city in the world to help you get your daily work out in, making parks the most convenient space for facilitating physical activity. There are dozens of exercises and fitness routines available to help you customize your park’s features to meet your fitness needs. Unlike most indoor fitness gyms, parks have no age or ability requirement for use, allowing the whole family to get in on the action. There’s really no good reason not to take a walk, run, hop or skip to your local park right now. Why are you still sitting here?

Feature Image: Exercising in the city park. Image via Huffington Post.

About The Author

Melodi McGee
Melodi McGee works in Public Administration for a municipality in the Pacific Northwest. She graduated in 2014 from California State University Northridge with a Bachelors of Arts Degree in Urban and Environmental Planning and a minor in Sustainability. Melodi is extremely passionate about the environment and education and believes that the key to ensuring the longevity and vital of our planet lies in promoting healthy environmental attitudes and practices to youth. Her greatest passion is her who children who inspire her to make the world a better place to be. Melodi is a self proclaimed life-long learner and is excited to be a part of the PowerHouse Growers contribution team and share ideas and innovations with like minded individuals.