San Antonio, Texas
Over the last two years, San Antonio, Texas, installed some 24 fitness areas in city parks, each with five to eight new workout stations. To best site their new fitness stations, the city pored over health data maps, eventually deciding to focus on areas with a high concentration of people with diabetes.
“Our goal was to encourage people to utilize the existing walking tracks and to provide an additional opportunity for them to be able to lose weight or possibly bring diabetes under control,” says Sandy Jenkins of San Antonio Parks and Recreation, which installed two equipment systems to offer a full-body workout in addition to the aerobic exercise of walking or running. Some San Antonio parks have an outdoor gym set up while others have stations spread out along a trail.
To promote even more use of the equipment, San Antonio offers organized fitness opportunities through their year-round, free Fitness in the Park program. This is led by instructors who coach individuals and teach Zumba, yoga, Pilates, kickboxing, boot camps, mommy and me, tae kwon do, circuit-training programs, walking for seniors, kettle-bell conditioning and more.
Adding fitness areas cost San Antonio anywhere from $12,000 to $40,000 per park, depending on the number of stations. The project was funded in part through a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to work with the local health district to curb obesity and diabetes, which are closely linked, Jenkins explains.
As part of San Antonio’s grant, a survey of people using the park equipment revealed that the new fitness stations boosted individuals’ number of visits to the park. For the four surveyed parks with new fitness stations, “the percentage of respondents who indicated their time spent at the parks increased was 58.33 percent, 42.11 percent, 39.13 percent, and 50 percent, respectively,” according to the survey.
“Everyone who has had the opportunity to use the fitness stations has remarked that they utilize the park more because of the opportunity to exercise more parts of their body,” Jenkins says. “Early on, we got several comments from people who had quit their gym membership because now they could get their full-body workout in the park.”
Miami-Bade County, Florida
Last year, Miami-Dade County, Florida, installed 10 fitness zones with about six to nine stations in each park, and it has plans to build about eight more zones. Planners sited zones in neighborhoods with high cardiovascular disease rates as well as in low-income communities where residents don’t have immediate access to gyms or the means to pay for a gym membership.
To encourage use throughout the year, the parks department planted trees around the zones to offer a shady canopy, explains Maria Nardi, chief of the planning and research division of Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces. In addition, the county created programs that facilitate people’s use of the zones-through classes and sessions with trainers. Seniors have special programs to help them become comfortable with the stations. Individuals can track their progress in exercise log books.
“Locating the stations in parks that have existing programs, so they’re part of a larger initiative, was important,” says Nardi, who explains that the zones are part of a larger county-wide vision to help increase the health and fitness of local residents.
“[Park projects] like this encourage people to get active and offer them a place to come together as a group and socialize. It not only benefits their physical health, but it also brings people together in a communal sense,” Nardi continues.
This community-building reaches beyond connecting neighbors to connecting the various partner organizations that care about public health. To make the fitness stations a reality, the park department partnered with nonprofit The Trust for Public Land and the Miami-Dade County Health Department, which received a grant from the CDC and other partner organizations. The fitness zones cost about $75,000 to $100,000 per park, depending on the number of stations, Nardi reports.
To help measure the project’s success, the county is establishing measureable outcomes, but the popularity can already be witnessed. “When we visit one particular park, we see a line of people waiting to use the machines,” Nardi says. “It’s indicative that the community has found it and is making good use of it.”
Los Angeles, California
On the West Coast, the City of Los Angeles began installing their new fitness equipment six or seven years ago, and to date, they’ve placed fitness stations in more than 40 new and existing parks throughout the city, with about three to eight pieces of equipment at each park.
“We’ve found that the equipment is heavily, heavily used–and the communities were asking for it,” says Michael Shull, superintendent of Planning, Construction and Maintenance for the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. Los Angeles’ fitness zones came about through a partnership with The Trust for Public Land and funding from other partner organizations.