Exercising Outside: The Rise of the Outdoor Fitness Movement

Chances are you are already pretty well aware of the outdoor fitness movement. Whether it's tai chi in the park or boot camp style workouts complete with obstacle courses and no-nonsense drill instructors, we have all seen people taking their fitness out of the gym and into the wild. For those of us who suffered through gym classes, fought through pollen and ragweed, and made it home unscathed after another well-intentioned but poorly planned track and field day, the idea of paying to "play outside" seems a bit ridiculous. After all, didn't we grow up just so that we could move our play INSIDE?

Well, it turns out that our gym teachers were on to something. Many Americans are suffering from various aches and pains and recurring ailments that we know could be alleviated with a regular jog around the park. While the fitness industry is one of the biggest and most pervasive forces on earth, it has done little to offer practical solutions for fitness and weight loss for the population regardless of income. Even those of us who have the income to invest in gym memberships and personal trainers may find that sports clubs and yoga studios leave us cold. As a response to this growing need, many cities and companies are investing in fitness parks.

The outdoor fitness movement uses functional or "natural" movements to help you get fit and stay that way. It turns out that those atrocious physical education film strips had it right. Calisthenics, stretching, running, jumping and crawling are all very good ways to get in shape and stay that way. The exercises that these fitness enthusiasts use not only build muscle but expand and maintain your body's range of movement. Unlike many indoor gym workouts, functional fitness adds the elements of balance and agility to the normal routines while encouraging the participants to get in touch with nature.

While outdoor fitness parks may seem like a fad, it has been a part of the fitness culture worldwide for many decades. We are all familiar with fitness parks, usually frequented by older people in the early morning hours. In places like China, Japan, Melbourne, and California, specially designed fitness parks have been part of the landscape for years, encouraging grown-ups to get out and "play". The equipment is completely people driven, replacing weights and treadmills with hiking trails and body weight resistance exercises. The simplicity of design makes fitness parks accessible to everybody, regardless of fitness level. Most of the parks have between 6 and 20 pieces of equipment. Though most of it will be familiar to the average user, there is usually adequate signage to make using it a no-brainer.

Increasingly, new housing complexes, hotels, and even public schools are investing in outdoor equipment and fitness parks. Bootcamp style and circuit training groups are becoming more and more prevalent, taking advantage of the natural landscape and the equipment that is becoming increasingly pervasive. Even New York City has seen the wisdom of investing in free fitness parks in the city's limited green spaces. The idea being that if we can lower or completely remove the obstacles to fitness, people will be more likely to engage. And why not? Many of the exercises are familiar to us already, and once learned they can be replicated anywhere. This is particularly important in underserved communities where obesity and lifestyle-related diseases have reached epidemic levels.

So why should you join the movement?

  • It’s Free!
    Getting fit doesn’t have to be expensive. You don’t even need to buy those cute pink hand weights. With a little sweat and ingenuity, you can get a killer workout every day of the week, any time of day, by hitting the streets and taking advantage of fitness equipment in your local park.
  • You’ll last longer.
    When you stop watching the timer on the display console and ditch the magazine, you will find that your workout just flies by. Instead of measuring your workout by the number of calories the onboard calculator says you burned, you will find that you create new metrics. Chances are you will push harder and burn more calories because you aren’t wedded to the numbers. This shift in how you measure a workout will carry over into your relationship with your body and your goals. Instead of obsessing about the calories you burned you will find that you listen to your body more. You will focus more on how you feel to determine when to stop.
  • It’s healthier.
    Newsflash: the air quality inside most gyms is horrible. Not that the smell didn’t give it away. Getting outside for some fresh air is a smart and healthy habit. Also, the changing terrain and compound movements associated with natural movements also help to keep the brain healthy and engaged. Exercises that improve balance, agility, and coordination not only give your body a workout but also help to keep your brain healthy. You may also find that your mood is lifted. This is particularly true if you exercise with a group or see the same faces when you go out. Humans are social creatures and working out in our communities helps to strengthen those social bonds. That, combined with the endorphins that your body releases, should leave you feeling pretty good.

Hopefully, you are feeling inspired to find a local fitness park near you. Take a friend along and form a group. Go early in the morning, when you are still motivated and you haven't had a chance to come up with excuses yet. Be sure to dress for the weather and have a backup plan in case of sudden rain or inclement weather. Stay hydrated, wear sunscreen, and above all else....have fun.

Got questions about buying outdoor fitness equipment for your park or facility? Call Park Warehouse @ 888-321-5334 or visit our Outdoor Fitness Products

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