Park gym 'app' to build fitness

Aug 22 2019

In partnership with Lake Macquarie City Council and Newcastle City Council, University of Newcastle researchers are recruiting for a new, nationally-funded trial that blends smartphone technology with park-based fitness facilities to encourage community exercise in the great outdoors.

The study, called ecofit, involves aerobic and resistance (weight-bearing) training for a full-body workout that’s fast, fun and free for anyone aged 18-80 who isn’t meeting physical activity guidelines.

A purpose-built app will guide participants through correct usage of outdoor gym equipment located in seven public parks and trails across Newcastle and Lake Macquarie, including the Fernleigh Track at Adamstown, Lambton, Warrabrook, Speers Point, Pasterfield Sports Complex in Cameron Park, Warners Bay and Wangi Wangi. As the study progresses, additional parks will be added to the smartphone app.

GPS tracking enables the app to know which exercise station is being used, and when, along any of the three-kilometre circuits or trails.

Participants must be willing to complete at least two self-guided sessions per week during the 12-week program, taking an estimated 30 minutes each. There are beginner, intermediate and advanced workouts, depending upon fitness level and prior exercise experience.

Professor Ron Plotnikoff, Director of the UON’s Priority Research Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition and co-leader of the HMRI Cardiovascular Research Program, says that ecofit is designed more for the average person than those with rippling muscles.

“Health guidelines recommend adults get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate exercise each week, including at least two days of resistance training,” Professor Plotnikoff said. “But a lot of people are deterred by the cost of gym memberships, concerned about injury, or just feel intimidated and embarrassed walking into a gym.

“Outdoor activity, however, has lots of advantages, including being free and highly social. Studies also show that it improves mental health and mood, perhaps even more than indoor exercise sessions.”

The study will assess participants’ physical activity levels, weight, aerobic and muscular fitness, and mental health at the start of the study and again at three and nine months later.Those randomised to the study’s control group will receive the app at the nine-month stage.

“Our pilot study targeted people with type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes with great improvement in physical and mental health, but this trial is targeting the whole adult population in the community,” Professor Plotnikoff added. “We want to see how the program performs in the real world with the general population, so we’ll host a group training session at the park then let them loose.”

Groups of up to four people can enrol, or it can be done individually with access to a closed Facebook group for social support. Numbers will be capped at around 300 participants.

To enrol or learn more, please email

* The ecofit trial is being conducted by Professor Ron Plotnikoff and Professor David Lubans, from the University of Newcastle. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.