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12 Reasons to Love a Park Bench

February 18, 2013 in Medicine, Regular Updates, Uncategorized

Guest Blog by our member Nancercize:

Just the other day, someone asked me how I thought of the idea to use park benches as exercise equipment. There’s no simple answer, but clearly a starting point was my desire to help as many people as possible get more active in fun ways.  

jumping fun over a park bench

Although I’m a certified personal trainer and group exercise instructor, with my livelihood depending on paying clients, I love saving money and using my imagination to make the most out of very little. I  encourage others to do so, too. (Must be my Dutch and German heritage!) As a public health professional, I’ve learned how difficult it is for many people to find the time to be more active–often money is an issue, and time as well, with parents especially feeling torn  between spending time on their own health and being with their families. Often, adults are advised to just walk a lot to satisfy their fitness requirements.  But after a while, just walking can get a tad boring… and it doesn’t begin to satisfy our need to strengthen our midriffs and upper bodies!

Sound  familiar? Miraculously, a simple park bench can help us get over all these fitness humps.

In my eight years of providing outdoor fitness programs in New York City Parks, I’ve discovered that many people who say they don’t like to exercise actually don’t like exercising in an indoor gym or health club. But almost everyone loves escaping the stuffy indoors for the fresh air and freedom of being out in a park. And once you’re there, you can take advantage of the park’s secret supply of exercise equipment–benches being my favorite in addition to walls, railings, curbs, and so on.

At a loss for ideas? No worries. I’ve created a free motivational 14-minute video that shows you how to use a park bench for strengthening exercisers such as push ups, dips, and leg lifts, as well as stretches that feel delicious. They’re all based on good old-fashioned calisthenics and yoga, with a little dance, pilates, and martial arts thrown in for variety. And, if you’d like detailed instructions for the exercises, they’re all in my book, “Nancercize: 101 Things to Do on a Park Bench.” The great news is that kids love these exercises too–a local mom told me her toddler knows every one of them, and plays the video everyday!

Here are 12 reasons to make a park bench part of your fitness life:

1. They’re outdoors, and it’s healthier for us all to spend more time outdoors each day.

2. They can be used to make an exercise or stretch easier; for example, if you don’t have much strength in your upper body, you can still do push ups by placing your hands on the bench back (easiest) or seat. Women, you’ll be glad to earn you don’t need to get on your knees to manage a push up!

3. They can be used to make an exercise or stretch more intense; for example, make a push up more challenging by placing your feet on the bench seat and your hands on the ground.

4. They are free!

5. They are almost always available, unlike gym equipment.

6. They are easy to find and are often in playgrounds, so while your children play, so can you–on your own equipment!

7. Everyone–the whole family, regardless of ability–can so something on a park bench, from leaping over it to doing a gentle seated stretch.

8. Benches are versatile–unlike outdoor gym equipment, which is designed for one exercise with perhaps a few variatiomns.

9. Benches encourage creativity.

10. They often are placed where there’s a nice view.

11. They encourage group use and socializing.

12. You can sit down and take a rest when you’re through!

exercise on a park benchfamily play fun

By Nancy Bruning, MPH
Nancercize: the Benchmark in Outdoor Fitness and Natural Health
101 Things to Do on a Park Bench — video

Don’t Get Drunk, Get Going Girls!

November 19, 2012 in Medicine, Nutrition, Regular Updates, Uncategorized

As more young women are discovering the advantages of living a healthier and alcohol-free life, FunMeFit are launching a campaign: “Don’t Get Drunk, Get Going Girls!”

Let’s face it girls, none of us want a beer belly, that paled complexion, health issues or any other alcohol-related problems that we all know can arise from regularly consuming any type of alcohol. As a tee-totaller myself, I’m regularly worrying about the drinking habits of friends and family but it seems that I’m not the only one with concerns about the effects of alcohol on health. I was excited to see this article in the Daily Mail:

Turning their backs on booze: Four young women explain why it’s cool to be part of Generation Sober  by MEL HUNTER @


“It’s a surprising phenomenon – far from binge drinking, many young women are turning their backs on alcohol completely”.

With FunMeFit, I always like to celebrate upbeat stories like this where cultural changes are having a positive impact instead of the usual negative drone. This is why I’ve decided to launch our new campaign:


“Don’t Get Drunk, Get Going Girls!”


There’s a simple strategy behind it: Get more women into sport, exercise and living a healthier and more active lifestyle and try to discourage women from doing all those naughty things that we know make us less attractive, unhealthy and more prone to serious health problems.

Alcohol is listed as the top way to prevent heart problems by The British Heart Foundation on their website


“Drinking too much alcohol is one of the most common causes of hospital admission in the UK.

And drinking more than the recommended limits can have a harmful effect on the heart.

It can cause abnormal heart rhythmshigh blood pressure, damage to the heart muscle and other diseases such asstrokeliver problems and some cancers.

Alcohol is also high in calories so it can lead to weight gain. If you are trying to lose weight, cut down on alcohol.”

So if we can encourage young women to give up the booze, as well as anyone else we know and start enjoying something else on a Friday and Saturday night like sport or perhaps a fun girlie night walk then we can all be happier, healthier and feel more like we’ve lived life.

What do you want to remember when you reach your older years? Nothing…Or a fun life filled with activity and friends? I know I’ve made my choice.

So Don’t Get Drunk, Get Going Girls!!

A History of Cycling in Sheffield

November 13, 2012 in Medicine, News, Nutrition, Regular Updates, Website Updates

Cycling in Sheffield – Then and Now  

Dr Jim Walker


This year’s Olympics, and characters like Bradley Wiggins, have inspired a resurgence in interest in cycling – even in the hilly terrain of Sheffield. The challenges faced by enthusiasts are not new…..

In June 1869 local papers had a new epidemic to report:


In Sheffield and vicinity, the symptoms of that alarming malady, the bicycle fever, are becoming daily more strongly marked and developed…

which might require ‘additional accommodation at the medical institutions of the town’ such as ‘extra facilities for the treatment of casualties’. Undeterred, the fabulous Browne Brothers appeared at the Alexandra Opera House in a display of bicycling dexterity, and in the same week the fever spread:

A Bicycle Club is being formed at the Shakespeare Inn, Gibraltar Street, and there is every prospect of its being a complete success.

(2 June 1869)

Tracing the beginnings of the fever leads us back a month earlier, when a Bicycle Club and Grounds were founded at Sharrow (near Wilson’s Snuff Factory), with a public launch at a crowded Pomona Hotel, with hundreds gathered outside to see a velocipede contest in which a bicycle of local firm Beck and Candlish of Brown Street was proven superior to one imported from Pickering of New York.

Prior to this, however, on April 20th 1869, the ingenious inventor Benjamin Gorrill had been first to announce his own make of ‘bicycle and tricycle velocipedes, of the best materials and workmanship’. He was the son of a scissor-maker of Eyre Street, and started as a scissorsmith, branched out into Orrery making and announced his new-fangled velocipedes (his son John Gorrill was an early rider in the Sheffield contests) from Cadman Lane, Sheffield. Elaborate planetary gear systems were a speciality, as noted in the Independent:

A most ingenious, skilfully constructed, and beautiful mechanism, showing the movements of the earth and sun, with other celestial phenomena, the work of Benjamin Gorrill, has been lent to the Museum…

The Brown brothers from Liverpool (before they added an ‘e’ to their name on the Alexandra stage) must have infected many with bicycle fever in a series of outdoor public displays on the 18th May, although the town’s physical geography posed a challenge:

Since the brothers have been in Sheffield they have tried to mount some of our hills, and have succeeded in getting up Snighill, Pond Hill, and have gone from Norfolk Street to Broomhill. In the afternoon of today they intend to try Paradise Square.

Crowds of locals held their collective breath as the brothers ‘made an attempt to rise Paradise Street’, noting that ‘from Westbar, all the way up, it is very uneven, being paved with very rugged boulders’, but they ultimately failed to conquer the final dozen yards near the top.

Henry Swan, curator of John Ruskin’s Museum which opened a few years later on Bell Hagg Road, Walkley, was another early pioneer of cycling, but Walkley’s uncompromising gradients presented the same problem and were only to be attempted by the truly dedicated. Swan promoted the benefits of athletic exercise, took in the invigorating air, maintained a strictly vegetarian lifestyle and was an advocate of the Cold-Water Cure.

His employer, however, was a critic of all mechanical transport, to be avoided ‘where it supersedes healthy bodily exercise’, famously denouncing steam engines but also objecting to bicycles:


I not only object, but am quite prepared to spend all my ‘bad language’ in reprobation of the bi-, tri-, and 4-,5-, 6 or 7 cycles, and every other contrivance and invention for superseding human feet…

                                                                                (John Ruskin)

Heavy steel velocipedes may not compare well to the carbon-fibre machines of today, but there were some early fore-runners. Surveyor Frank William Smith of the Hawthorns, Carr Road, Walkley, knew all about the state of the local roads (soon to be appointed Surveyor of Highways for Sheffield); and for health, comfort and practicality on the hills of Walkley he pioneered a bamboo bicycle (a London-based company advertised a ‘Special Racer’ weighing only 25lbs). His testimony in The Graphic, using words of heresy in a City of Steel, conjures an image of him gliding lightly up Blake Street or Bell Hagg Road past bemused steel-workers:

                Riding a Bamboo is indeed a pleasure which, to the riders of steel machines, is unknown.

                                                                (Walkley, 15 March 1897, the Graphic)


Bamboo never caught on, however, presumably because the cycles didn’t last – so ultimately the steel-makers had the last laugh….


Exercise and Health by Dr Jim Walker

August 18, 2012 in Medicine, News, Regular Updates

Is exercise good for you? ‘The Lancet’ medical journal advised caution in the nineteenth century, when a previous wave of bicycle mania gripped the country, and warned of the risks of causing a hernia:

The exercise, like all gymnastic feats, requires for safety that it should be carefully regulated, and that a high rate of speed should only be gradually acquired, and that great efforts should be studiously avoided…the most ardent velocipede riders do not recommend it with any earnestness to those who have passed 40 years.

                                (Lancet, May 1869)

Back to the present; and a 2012 study in ‘The Lancet’ looks at the effect of physical inactivity on major long-term illnesses, and estimates how much of this effect could be avoided if inactive people became active.

The study group reckons that across the world physical inactivity causes around 6% of the ill-health due to coronary heart disease, 7% of type 2 diabetes, 10% of breast cancer, and 10% of colon cancer. Inactivity causes 9% of premature deaths (varying from 5·1% to 12·5% according to the country in question). Using 2008 figures as an example, this would mean over 5·3 million of the 57 million deaths worldwide would be preventable by inactive individuals becoming active. A less ambitious aim would be to decrease inactivity by 25%, which would still avert more than 1·3 million deaths per year.

So physical inactivity is a major form of unhealthy behaviour worldwide. Smoking and inactivity kill a similar number of people (although the numbers of inactive people greatly exceed the numbers of smokers, making smoking more risky).

Overall, it is recommended that adults do 150 minutes of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, cycling or gardening, each week. But can encouragement alone yield positive results – in other words, does promoting a more active lifestyle have a lasting effect?

Yes – according to a recentUKstudy in the ‘British Medical Journal’. Researchers gathered together data from several trials where the not-so active – so-called “sedentary adults” – were encouraged to undertake physical activity in primary care settings. Results showed that this simple promotion “significantly improves self-reported physical activity levels over at least 12 months”.  Trials going beyond the 12 months cited are scarce, so better long-term data would be needed to draw conclusions about how long the effects last. More trials are needed!

Meanwhile, back to those velocipedes….



Effect of physical inactivity on major non-communicable diseases worldwide: an analysis of burden of disease and life expectancy. The Lancet 2012; Vol 380: p 219 – 229 (21 July 2012)

Effectiveness of physical activity promotion based in primary care. British Medical Journal 2012;344:e1389 (26 March 2012)

Further Reading

Prescribing exercise in primary care. British Medical Journal 2011; Vol 343: d4141 (15 July 2011)

World Health Organisation: Global Physical Activity plan (2010). See


Written by FunMeFit member Dr Jim Walker, August 2012.