Let's Move, But Not in Denver Parks

Forbes Magazine and the Travel Channel both rank Denver as the 5th healthiest US city. The mountains, sunshine, and healthy lifestyle attract many newcomers to Denver. Taking advantage of the climate and beautiful natural surroundings, outdoor fitness classes are one of the reasons for Denver’s high rankings.

In an ironic but typical example of government logic, the City of Denver imposed rules limiting group exercise in city parks and open spaces. Specifically the decree is for no commercial activity without a permit. And of course a fee that accompanies the permit.

Two thousand miles away from Denver, the New York Times took notice. They reported that a group called Stroller Strides, new mothers working out while pushing their strollers, received a cease and desist order from Denver Parks and Recreation.  Back in Denver, It Burns Joe Fitness, a hardcore group fitness class attracting well over a hundred fitness junkies to its three times a week workouts, was banned from their Red Rocks Amphitheater workout venue as the class had more than ten participants. Even though this workout is free, something rare in this day and age, permits could cost in excess of $1000 per month.

How ironic that Denver is discouraging rather than encouraging exercise and fitness. Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move program wants us to get active. “Physical activity is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle,” according to the Let’s Move website. Also ironic is that recreational marijuana is now legal in Colorado, along with its myriad health issues, yet group fitness classes in city parks are not. Would the City of Denver be happier of Joe’s group lounged on the Red Rocks bleachers smoking weed rather than doing push ups and crawling up the bleachers?

One of the arguments against large workout groups in the parks is that, “Personal trainers and fitness centers are taking unfair advantage of taxpayer-financed public spaces,” according to the New York Times article. Well what are the benefits to taxpayers of a fit population? One study found that almost ten percent of national health care expenditures in the US are due to inactivity and obesity. And who is paying those costs? The taxpayers fund about half of our national health care expenditures through Medicare, Medicaid, the VA, CHIP, and other government financed programs. Most of the sign ups through the Connect for Colorado insurance exchange are with Medicaid, funded by taxpayers. It seems that any efforts to increase fitness and exercise will financially benefit taxpayers by reducing health care costs.

Why do people want to exercise in groups rather than alone? Instead working out with your friends, why not stay at home and do a P90X workout in front of your television? The American College of Sports Medicine believes, “Group exercise offers a variety of benefits you might miss out on if you choose to work out on your own.” These include receiving instruction while exercising, a varied format to prevent boredom, and the motivation and encouragement from working out with friends.

Boston, another top 5 healthy American city, allows “Group fitness classes in pretty much every single park in the city, and most are free,” according to Boston Magazine. So why is Denver erecting barriers to group fitness classes through required permits and fees? As Mrs. Obama extolls us to “Let’s Move”, the only movement may be for Denver to drop out of the list of healthiest US cities.

Dr. Joondeph is a retina surgeon at Colorado Retina Associates and serves on the faculty of Rocky Vista University School of Medicine. The views expressed here are purely his own, and not those of Rocky Vista University. He is also an occasional participant in the It Burns Joe Fitness workouts. Twitter @retinaldoctor.

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