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South Eastern Sydney Local Health District takes a lead with advice on outdoor gyms

South Eastern Sydney Local Health District takes a lead with advice on outdoor gyms
June 17, 2013

With a growing number of outdoor gyms and fitness trails being installed at parks, reserves and beaches across Australia, the South Eastern Sydney Local Health District (SESLHD) Health Promotion Service is taking a lead in backing their installation, along with issue advice on their use and undertaking research into their benefits.

The recent SESLHD publication 'How to Use an Outdoor Gym' contains information for first time users, based on 12 items of popular outdoor gym equipment.

Advice is aimed at beginner, intermediate and advanced level, with recommendations that exercisers, warm up; then use the resistance and balance aspects of each piece of equipment with repetitions; followed by stretching.

The publication also urges that users who "are unsure about any of the exercises (should) consult a health professional before attempting the exercise(s)."

SESLHD 's emphasis on using outdoor gyms is focussed on seniors as part of the NSW Government's NSW Ageing Strategy. The Strategy aims to engage the Government and communities in planning for the challenges of an ageing population with one of the key visions for the strategy being that seniors will experience the benefits of living longer if they lead active lives and are connected to their communities.

An example of this was the recent opening of a Seniors Outdoor Gym at Maroubra Beach, its $60,000 installation jointly funded by Randwick Council and the NSW Government. Boasting inspiring views over the beach, easy access to public transport, car park facilities and public toilets, the range of strength and cardio equipment is also accompanied by instructive signage.

Since opening, the beachside location of the Gym is attracting users and opportunities for interaction between the young and old.

While a 2010 undergraduate study estimated there were more than 60 in Sydney, outdoor gyms are rapidly gaining popularity in communities across Australia and they offer unique benefits.

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Walkley award winning health writer Paula Goodyer explained "there are big advantages to fresh air gyms.

"Number one is they're free so lack of money for gym membership is no barrier to accessing equipment to improve muscle strength or cardiovascular fitness.

"They're also great for anyone who feels intimidated by regular gyms and that includes older people who can really benefit from getting stronger.

"(And) thirdly, combining exercise with natural environments can be a mood-booster. We already know that exercise can improve mental health and there's also growing evidence that being in green spaces helps too."

In practice, Exercise and Sports Science Australia spokesperson Dr Jarrod Meerkin sees the benefits of outdoor gums, explaining that "(users) can gradually increase the number of times (they) do a circuit of the equipment, (combining)e a circuit with a jog around the park – and … download(ing) a mobile app with an interval training program that can help (the user) get fitter or stronger by alternating 'sprints' of intense exercise with working out at a slower pace."

Explaining the evolution of outdoor gyms, Dean Joel, Managing Director of Australasian Playgrounds, whose Fit-for-Parks outdoor gym equipment was installed at Maroubra Beach and which feature in the 'How to Use an Outdoor Gym' publication, states "early versions of outdoor gyms consisted of chin-up bars, dip bars and other static items only accessible to already strong and fit individuals.

"In recent years a number of more accessible formats were introduced incorporating levers and other moving parts. However, many of these have been either unreliable or unsafe with nasty pinch points and crush points.

"This year, following four years of research and development, (we introduced) a new locally designed and manufactured range ... Fit-for-Parks.

"The new Fit-for-Parks range has been developed to be broadly accessible, durable and safe. In the absence of specific outdoor gym equipment standards the new Fit-for-Parks range meets Australian Playground Equipment Standards (AS4685).

"It has also been designed to stand up to the harsh Australian environment with an optional 'marine grade' specification available for coastal locations.

"Importantly the Fit-for-Parks range offers accessibility for people of all ages and fitness levels. Equipment is grouped into Cardio, Strength and Flexibility categories to offer a well rounded fitness solution."

SESLHD is also undertaking research into the benefits of outdoor gyms and is planning to issue the results of this research along with further resources on outdoor gyms in the near future.

Click here to view 'How to Use an Outdoor Gym'.


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