Walk through the Santiago district of Providencia on a Saturday afternoon and you will find the parks filled with families exercising on colorful fitness equipment. The first 12 machines were installed on Avenida Pocuro by the municipality in 2007. Today more than 89 elliptical machines, bikes and parallel bars have appeared in the area’s many green spaces, and regularly attract local Santiaguinos, many of whom are now exercising on a regular basis for the first time.
A study carried out by the Department of Architecture at the Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María found that the gyms are attracting as many as 90,000 people monthly, of which 39 percent are exercising regularly for the first time.
The fitness areas are almost never empty, the study found, yet are never full enough to require lines or long waits. Even on the most popular days, Wednesdays and Saturdays, the fitness areas only reach 37 and 29 percent occupancy respectively. The study also found that most of those using the machines do so regularly, with three out of five people coming at least three times each week.
The study aimed to examine the ways that urban design and infrastructure can encourage fitness and health in urban populations. The open-air gyms have proved highly successful, not only attracting large numbers of regular visitors, but also encouraging 90 percent of them to combine use of the public fitness machines with independent exercise like walking, running or bike-riding. The public spaces along Avenida Pocuro facilitate these activities as well, providing bike and running paths alongside the open-air gyms.
Not only have the free gyms proved remarkably effective in encouraging a more active lifestyle for Santiaguinos, they are also incredibly economical. According to a report in La Tercera, installation of the gyms costs only US$10,000 – US$25,000 (CP$5-12 million).
Since 2007, Providencia has been joined by other Santiago disctricts like Las Condes, Vitacura, Ñuñoa and Quinta Normal amongst others in making fitness accessible to the general public with open-air gyms. The study concludes that the public gyms represent an important success in the use of urban design to encourage healthier habits, establishing a new model for making a fitter, healthier Santiago in the 21st century.