It's 5 p.m. at Topeekeegee Yugnee Park in Hollywood, and the new outdoor fitness zone is packed with children, moms, teenagers, middle-aged men and elderly people.
Adam Konesey, a burly investigator for Home Depot, stops by after work to get in a workout before his commute home.
“I wish they would have put in an entire fit course, but this is helpful," says Konesey.
Leeya Elimelch, a Cooper City church leader, works out on the equipment three days a week and says she “loves, loves, loves it."
“I used to travel all the way to Coconut Grove to go to the gym," she said. “I was conscientious about it and wasted all this money on it. Now I'm using nature and exercising outside. I used to jog around this park, but now I use the equipment."
The diverse group of fitness enthusiasts are just what Memorial Health Systems and Broward County Parks and Recreation had in mind when they installed the outdoor fitness equipment in December in a joint partnership — to encourage people who might not ordinarily exercise, or who can't afford to go to a gym, to get fit. The hospital group shared the $70,000 cost with the county.
“It was an easy decision for us because it's a way to help our community and give something back," said Zeff Ross, Memorial's senior vice president and chief executive officer. “It's better to keep someone well than have an injury or illness later. This is one way of doing that."
All throughout South Florida, budget-conscious residents of all ages are looking for ways to introduce exercise into their lives without spending costly monthly gym fees. And, in the same way they used to incorporate playgrounds for children, communities are planning fitness trails, fitness zones and other “free" ways for their residents to get in shape.
Fitness zones like the one at T.Y. Park have sprung up at dozens of locations throughout South Florida, including Ingraham Park in Coral Gables, an apartment complex in Miami Lakes and at the University of Miami. This month, it will arrive at Broward College.
California-based Greenfields Outdoor Fitness started offering the outdoor fitness equipment in 2007, and the concept has taken off. The company often partners with the Trust For Public Land, which conserves public land for people to enjoy as parks and gardens.
“People saw the benefits of having outdoor equipment to exercise on,’’ said Greenfields President Sam Mendelsohn. “Cities spent millions of dollars on playground equipment for children, but what did it do for parents and grandparents? This is a multigenerational concept. The children can see the parents exercising. It also provides people with a great opportunity to socialize with friends and family."
Gayle Preston, superintendent of Broward parks, said the county would like to install outdoor exercise equipment at a number of its parks. Currently, the county has older fitness stations at some of its parks. But the partnership with Memorial made sense at T.Y. Park, one of the county's most utilized parks, visited by 1,000 people daily.
“The response to the equipment has been overwhelming since we opened," Preston said. “We'd like to do more of this, but, of course, funding is an issue."
In North Miami Beach, a wide, lighted, two-mile walking-jogging-biking path winds around the Snake Creek Canal. There, neighbors greet each other while making their nightly exercise treks in ones, twos and threes.
Some, like Benjamin Paul, utilize a “paracourse" fitness circuit that offers basic equipment for chin-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks and other exercises. Paul, a 40-year-old electrician, was doing sit-ups and chin-ups one night at the canal.
“I used to belong to a gym, but I'm on a budget," said Paul. “And it's nice that it's outside."
Some, like Yolanda Valdez, who lives down the street, just power walk. Valdez said she walks the canal — which takes an hour — with two friends several times a week. “It's good exercise, and we get to talk," she said.
Another, jogging and walking path well-utilized is on Country Club Drive in Aventura. The 3.6-mile scenic path passes golf courses, lakes and boats and is lined with lush palms.
Ivy Ginsburg, an Aventura attorney, walks the path frequently, her dog Mr. Bear in tow, stopping to greet neighbors along the way.
"It's free, and you certainly work up a sweat," said Ginsburg. "You see the ducks and the nature. There are a lot of cyclists. It's heavily populated. I've seen all generations, from teens to 80-year-olds."
Baptist Hospital is also offering opportunites for the community to get free exercise. Twenty years ago, the hospital began with a walking program at Dadeland Mall. Now, exercise programs as diverse as Zumba, Pilates, Aqua Zumba and prenatal yoga are offered throughout Dade and Broward counties at senior centers, malls and churches.
In 2013, Baptist, which used to charge a nominal fee, started offering its classes for free.
“Our goal is for everyone to be healthy," said Baptist's Lissette Eques. "There's a social component, as well … especially for the seniors. We're not just looking at the physical, but also the emotional."
Natasha Figueroa, 47, takes advantage of Baptist's tai chi and aerobics classes at the Baptist Resource Center in Miami. She learned about the programs after seeing a mall-walking group at Dadeland Mall and asking them "what is this all about?"
Figueroa, who suffers from spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, says the exercise promotes socialization, camaradarie and "keeps my blood flowing."
"That's important for someone in a wheelchair," said Figueroa. "I feel better by miles since I started doing it."