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Re-thinking Public Parks as “Green Gyms” for Outdoor Exercise

By Cheryl Jacobs

January 12, 2017

Guest Author:

Nancy Bruning B.A., MPH

Nancercize, The Benchmark in Outdoor Fitness


“Green Gyms” are a way to encourage people to exercise outdoors. They can both help reduce our abysmally low rates of physical activity while addressing the related contemporary health problem of nature deficit disorder.

Public parks are convenient, free, and appealing outdoor environments in which to be active. They are already popular for walking or jogging.  While this is a good start on fitness, these aerobic activities do not satisfy the current recommendations for strengthening and flexibility exercises. In addition, our minds and bodies may find them monotonous over time.

One possible solution is to build “adult playgrounds” — indoor gyms brought outside. But these are not always practical or affordable in many cases—an added expense to build, install, and maintain.

Thinking of our parks and common, standard park features as Green Gyms is a less costly, space-consuming, and resource-gobbling approach, since the core idea is to make use of existing outdoor infrastructure and furniture for physical activity. Even better, we can also design and specify new parks or other outdoor spaces with this future use in mind, without sacrificing their original uses and benefits and with little to no added expense or maintenance.

We just need an open mind to think of park benches, walls, railings, paths, steps, curbs, and so on as “exercise equipment.”   Many traditional exercises and stretches can be adapted for this purpose, and communities can commission consultants to create site-specific classes, fitness guides and maps featuring a selection of calisthenics and yoga stretches. This “open gym” or “green gym” approach is discussed in more detail here and demonstrated in this video.

Nancy Bruning, BA, MPH is an Urban Health Writer/Editor/Advocate and Physical Activity in Public Health Specialist (PAPHS). She is the author of over 20 books on health and fitness, and has been designing outdoor fitness programs for New York City Parks since 2002. For more information: and