Impact and Cost-Effectiveness of Family Fitness Zones

A Natural Experiment in Urban Public Parks

In order to encourage more physical activity among local residents, “Fitness Zones” bring easy-to-use outdoor gyms into public parks. Such durable, weather- and vandal-resistant equipment can be used for strength training and aerobic exercise. The cost averages $45,000 for eight pieces of equipment, including installation.

These investigators evaluated the impact of Fitness Zone equipment on physical activity in 12 Los Angeles city and county parks that served a range of population groups. They used SOPARC (System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities) to assess the use of parks before and after installation, comparing the Fitness Zone parks to similar parks without the equipment.

Key Findings:

  • Installing the equipment was associated with increases in park use in half of the Fitness Zone parks.
  • The most frequently used equipment pieces were the dual pendulum, the ski machine, and the leg press. The least used were the leg curl and the horizontal bars.
  • Calculating cost effectiveness, on a yearly basis the cost of the equipment was 10.5 cents per MET (a measure of the amount of energy typically spent walking 20 minutes).

Since Fitness Zone use decreased on second follow up, the authors suggest that outreach and marketing may be necessary to sustain use of the equipment.