Providing freely accessible exercise facilities may increase physical activity at a population level. An increasingly popular strategy is outdoor fitness equipment in urban parks. Few studies have evaluated the effectiveness of this intervention in smaller cities. This study examined fitness equipment use, perceived effectiveness, and ways to increase use in a city of 100,000 people in 2015.
Two parks with fitness equipment and 4 without were directly observed. Interviews with 139 adults in active parks or living nearby were also conducted.
Only 2.7% of adult park users used the fitness equipment over 100 hours of observation across 3 seasons. In contrast, 22.3% of adults interviewed reported monthly or more use of the equipment, highlighting the limitations of self-report methods. Adults interviewed perceived the equipment as potentially beneficial and suggested strategies to increase public use, including increased advertising, the introduction of programming to teach and encourage use, improved equipment quality, and improved maintenance of the equipment and surrounding area.
In a low density city, park fitness equipment may not be an effective public health practice without additional efforts to market, introduce programming, and maintain these sites.
Copeland and Willoughby are with the Dept of Kinesiology and Physical Education, Faculty of Arts and Science; Currie, Walker, Mason, and Amson are with the Faculty of Health Sciences; University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.