Outdoor fitness equipment isn’t a new idea; hills, trees and rivers have been around for millions of years to be run up, climbed and swum against. What is more, whilst out hunting and foraging, our Paleolithic ancestors benefited from regular exposure to fresh air, Vitamin D from sunshine and the calming effect of natural environments – all of which are now promoted to us for good mental and physical health!

If you look at the overall health and fitness of the Paleolithic (or “hunter and gather” period from 10,000 years ago) cavemen, they were all pretty strong, not overweight by today’s standards, and did not suffer from modern degenerative diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and cancers.

An Easy Health Plan and Workout Plan

This is all very well but, obviously, there were also a few downsides to caveman days that few of us would want to experience now! However, perhaps the key to healthier, happier living lies in a calculated combination of modern sophistication and our more grounded, natural past.

‘Exercising in natural environments is linked to greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement, decreased tension, confusion, anger and depression and more energy. People who exercise outside mention that they felt happier, more satisfied, and wanted to repeat the activity at a later date. Outdoor runners tend to flex their ankles more and expend more energy when compared to treadmill runners. Cyclists are also shown to burn more calories when riding outdoors. It has been shown that people who exercise outside tend to do so for longer than those who exercised inside.’

‘The majority of study participants stated that exercising outdoors was more beneficial for their health (70%) and more enjoyable (80%) than exercising indoors. Over 80% of participants agreed or strongly agreed that the aesthetic qualities of the environment that they exercise in are important to them.’

Many people enjoy and benefit from outdoor sports such as cycling, running, swimming on a regular basis, and to all ability levels, but ‘going to the gym’ has also become a major feature in the fitness lives of the modern human being. There are lots of advantages to a good indoor gym membership, of course, including: a quality-controlled environment at all times, varied equipment availability, access to onsite training classes, maybe a great café or bar in the building…but councils, businesses, schools and colleges are also waking up to the potential of outside fitness equipment for a healthier, happier society.

‘Outdoor gym equipment is becoming increasingly available in parks and other outdoor locations in the UK and worldwide. Setting up gym equipment in green spaces provides people of all ages with opportunities to take part in physical activity in attractive environments, which is associated with positive outcomes for physical and mental health.’

‘Since first using an outdoor gym, between 44% and 54% of all participants who had used the outdoor equipment and between 52% and 72% of regular users who used an outdoor gym once a week or more reported having increased confidence to take part in physical activity, undertaking more physical activity, feeling physically fitter and healthier. Benefits for mental wellbeing included feeling more relaxed and less stressed.’

So how can councils make the most of this outdoor fitness and wellbeing phenomenon for the benefit of residents?

Outdoor fitness equipment, professionally designed and developed to be permanently installed outdoors, can be free to use and accessible for all. Its clever design makes outdoor exercise safe and fun whilst optimising resistance training through the use of the user’s own body weight. Outdoor fitness exercise equipment also has low maintenance and running costs, strong vandal-resistant construction and a very low carbon footprint, plus it provides the perfect solution to encourage outside exercise.

Many councils are actively working to find ways of providing free access to just such resources in their parks and recreational spaces. For example, Dartford Borough Council funded their outdoor fitness equipment through the Choosing Health programme with NHS West Kent, which aims to improve the health and well-being of people living and working in Dartford. The Fresh Air Fitness equipment is part of the Council’s plan to enhance the offer of Central Park by promoting the park as a venue for greater activity – it will also help make completing the recommended guidelines for physical activity a more achievable goal for the people of Dartford.

However, the key to success lies not only in providing the space, the equipment and the free access but also in educating and encouraging the public on how to make the best use of, and enjoy this facility.

“There’s no good just putting the machines there and just expecting the local community to get on there and just use them, they need little bits of guidance, pointing them how to use the exercise equipment. There’s no incentive if there’s nothing there to help them improve and to get better, and to push themselves.”


Some council websites show locations and types of equipment available, plus providing instructions at the site on how to use each piece of apparatus and ideas for a variety of exercises. Some even organize and fund fitness professionals to provide free classes for groups – thus engendering a community spirit with the outdoor fitness provision as the hub.

The appeal of the outdoors, free access and instruction, unenforced routine and chance to socialize has meant even people who would never usually have even gone to a ‘normal’ gym are now joining in.

With a little bit of planning – for example, having a gym bag always ready, packed with drink and a change of clothes – the outdoor fitness resource can become an enjoyable and spontaneous or planned part of anyone’s day. One benefit of outdoor exercise is the ability to simply step out of your home and go! You don’t need a membership to get started.

Positive attitudes about exercising outdoors were associated with more regular use of an outdoor gym. Amongst all participants who had used the equipment on at least one occasion, over half agreed or strongly agreed that the outdoor gyms had an overall positive impact on their health and that since using the equipment they felt fitter or healthier, more confident when exercising and took part in more physical activity. Benefits for health were greater amongst those who used the equipment at least once a week.

Local businesses also stand to benefit as outdoor fitness attendees look to local cafes, shops and restaurants to buy snacks, drinks and meals before or after a workout session – or just for a chat!   More positive attitudes about the health benefits of using an outdoor gym, accessibility and the attitudes of friends were all associated with more regular use of the equipment.

To inspire maximum interest in an outdoor fitness resource, councils therefore need to consider the following:

  • Creation of an inviting space
  • Variety of equipment for all abilities and to work all muscle groups – or research the specific requirements of the local community
  • Keep adult fitness equipment separate from provision for children and use appropriate signage and instructions for safety
  • Inspection and maintenance of equipment for safety and durability
  • Instructions and ideas for use of equipment
  • Provision of supporting amenities such as bike racks, benches, undercover areas for bad weather moments and breaks, plus changing areas
  • Personal trainers and organised group training sessions for free or paid for by participants.
  • Promotion of the resource for maximum awareness and community engagement