by Whitney Elks

Chronic diseases have become a point of focus for public health worldwide. They cost estimates of up to trillions of dollars in health care costs per year. “Lifestyle factors such as physical inactivity are heavily correlated with the development of many chronic diseases” [1]. Physical activity and exercise are now considered top interventions for use in prevention of chronic diseases. Diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and cancer can all be prevented with a medical management plan that includes physical activity.

The CDC Physical Activity Guidelines recommend accumulating 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise [2]. However, following these recommendations have proven to be difficult in some communities. Physical activity can be limited by socioeconomic barriers. Members of the community may not be able to drive to the gym, cannot utilize the gym during their scheduled business hours, or simply cannot afford a gym membership fee. In such scenarios, utilizing outdoor facilities such as parks can knock down these barriers and allow the community members to get fit and prevent disease.

Community champions of Raton, New Mexico plan to break down such barriers and offer outdoor fitness equipment for those members of the community that cannot consistently exercise in a commercial gym. “We’d like to install way-finding signage to promote walking and connect walkers to points of interest in Raton. We’d also like to provide signage for fitness stations (outdoor fitness equipment) in Roundhouse Memorial Park, and possibly more parks in the future,” says Emma Green, the Colfax County Coordinator for Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities.

Outdoor fitness equipment (OFE) offers many unique benefits to community members. The equipment is eco-friendly, requiring no electricity. It can offer revenue opportunities to personal trainers without requiring a contract to train clients in commercial gyms. It can also support community capital by attracting health-conscious people that may influence behavior of non-exercisers. Not to mention, it is fun to exercise out in the sun and fresh air!

In one 2017 study, outdoor fitness equipment in Xihu park “attracted considerable use” [3]. Peak hours included the early morning and late afternoon with the majority of participants being females and seniors. The OFE seemed to be well-used in this urban park. In another study in 2013, seniors who used OFE perceived many benefits from its use. They described increased social interactions with friends, enjoyment of fresh air, improved mood, and stated that the equipment is simply “fun to use” [4].

Implementing OFE is not a simple task for Ratonians, however. “We could use help with funding, donated materials, and design. The Gynecological Cancer Awareness Project (GCAP) has agreed to help us with sign wording on health benefits.” GCAP has also agreed to allocate funds for the first round of funding. Ramblin’ Round Raton, a local walking group, is helping as well.

Champions of Raton continue to take steps toward making the city a better place to walk and be physically active outdoors. Other projects in the works include a trail route from Raton’s Climax Canyon Trail to Sugarite Canyon State Park. Stay tuned.

For more information, keep checking back here and follow Facebook pages The Center for Sustainable Community, UNM Prevention Research Center, Raton Parks & Recreation and GrowRaton! You can also find Walking Guides throughout town and online [5].

Get outside and walk. Exercise is medicine.

REFERENCES:
1. Durstine, J. Larry, et al. “Chronic Disease and the Link to Physical Activity.” Journal of Sport and Health Science, vol. 2, no. 1, 2013, pp. 3–11., doi:10.1016/j.jshs.2012.07.009.
2. “Physical Activity.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7 Sept. 2018, www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/.
3. Chow, Hsueh-Wen, et al. “Who Is Using Outdoor Fitness Equipment and How? The Case of Xihu Park.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 14, no. 4, 2017, p. 448., doi:10.3390/ijerph14040448.
4. Chow, Hsueh-Wen. “Outdoor Fitness Equipment in Parks: a Qualitative Study from Older Adults’ Perceptions.” BMC Public Health, vol. 13, no. 1, 2013, doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-1216.
5. Ramblin’ Round Raton Alliance. “Walking and Hiking. A Guide to Places in and near Raton, N.M.” Www.viva-Connects.org, www.bing.com/cr?IG=C043EA090CEC45888D7ABDA08539A18E&CID=3070F4A311E26D143D74FF01104D6C0E&rd=1&h=i-64aYpyqAUH0rBAxD7xXaYP1qKKXyTKdKyE7bXpKhw&v=1&r=https%3a%2f%2fviva-connects.org%2fwp-content%2fuploads%2f2017%2f03%2fWalking-Trails-FINAL_Booklet_Reformatted_030117rv_ALL-PAGES.pdf&p=DevEx,5041.1.