St. Petersburg becomes home to the first AARP fitness park in the nation

LUIS SANTANA   |   Times The AARP park at Booker Creek in St. Petersburg is the first fitness park of its kind in the country.
LUIS SANTANA | Times The AARP park at Booker Creek in St. Petersburg is the first fitness park of its kind in the country.
Published May 22, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — A new set of equipment has arrived near the playground at Booker Creek Park, but it's not intended for kids.

Instead, AARP opened the first fitness park of the 53 it plans to roll out across the country designed for older adults in an effort to create more intergenerational living spaces.

"People are living longer and we need to make sure they are living healthier too," AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony last month.

The park, which features six stations with exercise equipment suitable for a range of age and ability levels, was installed by FitLot, a company started in New Orleans by former St. Petersburg resident Adam Mejerson, to turn empty spaces into fitness parks.

"Our real goal is to bring access to fitness," said Mejerson, who was on hand for the event. "It's more of a community building tool. Fitness can be a way for people to spend time with each other."

Mejerson said the equipment allows for users to get cardio or strength training in and add resistance bands.

"This is very thoughtfully designed for any age or ability to benefit from the same space," he said.

Last month, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Florida as an "Age-Friendly State," the fourth state in the country to seek this AARP designation.

Kathy Black, a gerontologist at the School of Aging Studies at the University of South Florida, said parks provide a facet of wellbeing for the aging populations that is often overlooked.

"Health is really much more than whether you have a disease or not," she said. "It's mental and it's social. Isolation is a huge killer."

Parks like these, she said, offer both a civic space for interaction and a chance for physical activity. They are part of a growing trend across the world. In China, 50,000 parks with low-impact exercise equipment were installed ahead of the Beijing Olympics and referred to as a "nursing home prevention program," she said.

"The thing about parks is there was a study that older adults use parks less than others," she said. "If the parks are only being designed for young people, we're not really building parks for people as they age. ... This is not Gold's Gym. We can use parks to keep older people active."

Instructions for the equipment are available and the park is open for public use. In June, the St. Petersburg Parks and Recreation Department's Healthy St. Pete will start offering free fitness classes on the equipment led by a FitLot certified instructor, through a three-year partnership with AARP.

AARP state director Jeff Johnson, who also was at last month's ceremony, said the goal of the park was to create a welcoming space for older residents.

"We want to be a place where people can age well," he said.

Contact Divya Kumar at Follow @divyadivyadivya.

Booker Creek Park

The park is at 2300 13th Ave. N, St. Petersburg. It is open sunrise to sunset. Free fitness classes on the equipment will be offered starting in June. To learn more, call (727) 892-5994.