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The Parks, Recreation, Fitness, and Sport sector encompasses public and private organizations invested in promoting, supporting, and providing recreation and fitness opportunities for children and adults.

  1. Making the case
  2. What can you do?
  3. Strategies
  4. Guidelines for Recreation and Sports Facilities and Classes
  5. Recreation, Park, and Health Promotion Grant and Program Resources

    Action Brief

    Park, Recreation, Fitness & Sport Professionals Make a Difference!

    Making the case

    Arthritis is common and costly.

    Arthritis is the most common cause of disability in the United States.

    • 58.5 million U.S. adults (23.7%) have arthritis.
    • 8.6 million U.S. adults (19%) report disability due to arthritis. In this context, disability is defined as a limitation or loss of function, most often manifested as difficulty climbing a flight of stairs and walking three city blocks (a distance equal to walking from the parking lot to the back of a large store or through a mall).
    • As the number of older Americans continues to grow, and the rates of obesity and overweight increase, the number of people with arthritis-attributable activity limitations will only increase.
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    Arthritis and other rheumatic conditions costs our nation billions each year ($140 billion in 2013)

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    Adults with arthritis often have other chronic conditions and arthritis makes managing these other conditions more difficult:

    • Of these comorbid conditions — heart disease (49%), chronic respiratory conditions, obesity (31%), diabetes (47%), and stroke are among the most common
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    Adults with arthritis are more likely to fall.

    Because of physical limitations and disease progression over time, adults with arthritis are prone to falling. This could be because of pain, awkward gait, tripping or slipping easily, or not being able to “catch” themselves if they are off balance. Engaging regularly in balance activities, such as Tai Chi, has been shown to prevent falls and improve stability.

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    Physical activity benefits all adults — INCLUDING adults with arthritis.

    • It offers immediate and measurable health benefits: decreased pain, delayed onset of disability, and improved physical functioning, mood, and independence.
    • It also enhances quality of life, aerobic capacity, and muscle strength.
    • It is a low-cost, effective, and sustain­able approach to arthritis management.
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    People with arthritis can safely engage in physical activity.

    Moderate intensity exercise is safe for people with arthritis due to its low risk of injury, and has been shown not to aggravate joint symptoms.  Walking, in particular, has more than half the risk of musculoskeletal injury compared to other vigorous activities like running. A variety of evidence-based physical activity programs have been tested and proven appropriate and safe for adults with arthritis.  Organizations such as the YMCA of the USA and National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) have incorporated some of these programs into their menus of structured physical activity offerings in order to reach a wider audience and address the unique needs of the 50 million people with arthritis. Currently, six physical activity interventions have been recognized by the CDC as effective and appropriate for people with arthritis. More information about them is available below.

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    Unfortunately, far too few adults with arthritis participate in recommended physical activity.

    Adults with arthritis are less likely to be physically active than those without the disease, and this gap widens even further for adults with arthritis who also have diabetes or heart disease or for those who are obese.

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    What can you do?

    “Providing access, education, and resources that help people incorporate fun and meaningful physical activity into their daily lives can foster real change in the national level of physical activity.”[1]

    Physical activity and exercise are at the core of the mission of our nation’s vast array of parks, green spaces, sports and recreation facilities, and community centers. Expanding this incredible resource to benefit adults with arthritis can be as simple as sharing information—in posters, brochures, news alerts, and social media—on the benefits of physical activity for people with arthritis at your sites. Or it can involve offering more low-impact and low-intensity exercise equipment and classes for older adults with arthritis and disabilities.

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    A few tips—

    As you think about how best to use your resources and capabilities to make it easier for adults with arthritis to participate in physical activity, consider the primary environmental barriers they face: [2]

    • Availability of programs or facilities – including few programs or facilities that meet specific needs and lack of qualified instructors as well as lack of awareness of the programs
    • Cost – for both current exercisers and non-exercisers
    • Transportation – including congested parking, lack of transportation to facilities or programs, as well as placement of new facilities and programs in locations that are not accessible by public transportation
    • Exercise facility design – including no safe curb cuts (depressed curbs that act as ramps in sidewalks), inaccessible access routes, lack of elevators, slippery floors, absence of handrails on stairs, lack of adaptive and/or accessible equipment, lack of knowledgeable instructors, and poor equipment maintenance
    • Accessibility to public spaces – including poorly maintained trails, no safe curb cuts, damaged or no sidewalks, terrain too steep a grade or slope, insufficient number of benches or resting places along a trail for people who need frequent rest periods, inadequate lighting, and poorly designated signage
    • Safety conditions – including risky neighborhoods, concrete surfaces, and presence of dogs


    What strategies will make the most difference?

    • Instructors who understand issues related to arthritis
    • Availability of programs that are safe and accessible for people with arthritis, including walking paths and water-based exercise
    • Tailoring of programs to incorporate pain management skills into an exercise program and teach people how to modify their exercise routines according to their symptoms
    • Adaptations in exercise facilities including non-slip mats in locker rooms, adequate number of accessible parking spaces, push-button operated doors, zero-depth entry pools, and family changing rooms
    • Suitable exercise equipment including Velcro straps to allow individuals with disabilities to grip exercise equipment, pool water chairs, and upper-body aerobic exercise equipment
    [1] Source: The National Physical Activity Plan
    [2] Source: CDC, White Paper: Identifying Relevant Environmental and Policy Strategies to Increase Physical Activity among Adults with Arthritis, 2011


    Strategy 1. Include at least one evidence-based arthritis-appropriate physical activity intervention in your schedule of exercise programs.

    Six physical activity programs have been proven to enhance the symptoms, function, and quality of life of adults with arthritis. All meet stringent criteria and have been evaluated. In addition, CDC has developed a guidance document to help select the appropriate interventions for your situation.


    Strategy 2. Provide literature on arthritis and physical activity in all park, recreation, fitness, and sport facilities.

    Good brochures and pamphlets can help spread the word about the importance of physical activity for adults with arthritis, the benefits of that activity, and available resources in the community for services and support. Such material should be positioned strategically, in locations that are highly trafficked by regular patrons—near the front check-in desk, in locker rooms, or beside a main exit.



    Strategy 3. In fitness and sports facilities, offer more low-impact and low-intensity exercise equipment for older adults and individuals with arthritis and disabilities.

    When purchasing equipment and designing exercise space, health clubs and other recreational facilities should take into account the accessibility needs for persons with arthritis, limited mobility, and/or disabilities. The built environment (facility layout and structure, as well as interior design), supplemented with supportive internal policies and professional behavior (attitudes and knowledge), can make a major difference in facilitating use.

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    Strategy 4. Advocate for the development of sidewalks to create safe pathways to parks and recreation facilities.

    Adults must be able to get to parks and recreation facilities easily and safely. Installation and maintenance of solid sidewalks can remove one of the main access barriers for all adults, not just those with arthritis.



    Strategy 5. Install benches or rest areas in parks, trails, and recreation facilities to support greater use by adults with arthritis.

    Before visiting a nearby park or walking path, adults with arthritis need to know that there are frequent, safe, and comfortable places for them to rest.  Due to pain and/or limitations in endurance and stamina, adults with arthritis may need to take frequent breaks from walking to protect their health. Signs can also help adults with arthritis select walking paths that are level or have gradual slopes, and avoid those that are hilly or steep.



    Strategy 6. Use tools such as audits or walk-ability checklists to assess whether trails or paths are accessible to people with arthritis.

    A walking audit (also referred to as a walking assessment) can help examine the walking conditions along specified streets, trails, and paths. It is designed to assess availability, safety, and attractiveness of walking routes in a community. It can help you map out the most commonly used walking routes, and identify the most common safety hazards and inconveniences that can keep people from walking.



    Strategy 7. Enhance arthritis and exercise expertise of park, recreation, fitness, and sport professionals by:

    • Supporting professional development programs or training
    • Including arthritis-specific information in all exercise certification programs and undergraduate exercise professional training curricula
    • Providing more sources of appropriate arthritis-friendly physical activity training for fitness professionals, peer leaders, etc.

    In addition to offering classes and equipment that can be adapted for adults with arthritis, facilities should have staff skilled in modifying exercises and equipment for different ability levels. To the extent possible, modifications should be tailored to the individual, and the type, frequency, intensity, and duration of recommended exercise should depend on the severity, type, and location of arthritis.  Training should develop skills in tailoring exercise programs to individual needs and helping adults who have developed arthritis modify their approach to exercise (e.g., by changing intensity, frequency, or type) in order to prevent pain or other negative outcomes.

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    Guidelines for Recreation and Sports Facilities and Classes

    Guidelines for equipment, space, and classes. Adapted from The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability (html)

    • Fewer pieces of equipment that are more spread out so users have a choice of getting on the equipment from the right or left side and more space to place a mobility device
    • More space between the equipment and the wall to allow adequate room to get on the equipment
    • Clear paths to the equipment to prevent any impediments to access
    • No minimum speed on cardiovascular equipment so equipment can be used at any desired speed
    • Classes that an instructor can adapt for a person with restricted mobility
    • A facility that is accessible by both stairs and elevators
    • No heavy doors and/or closets that can be a problem for people with strength difficulties
    • Areas of additional seating for people who might need periodic rest
    • No door knob handles that may be difficult for people who lack hand dexterity
    • Sufficient handlebars on equipment to add stability to all types of equipment
    • Seats on stationary bicycles that provide adequate back support and allow users with back problems to use the equipment safely.


    2010 Standards for Accessible Design as they apply to sports facilities (pdf)

    • Accessible routes for court sports are required to connect both sides of the court, i.e. allowing easy access for changing sides of a tennis court.
    • For ground surfaces in areas of sports activity, requirement that ground and floor surfaces along accessible routes be stable, firm, and slip resistance.
    • Benches must have back support that is 42 inches minimum in length and that extends from a point 2 inches maximum above the seat to a point 19 inches minimum above the bench.
    • Where installed in wet locations, benches must be slip-resistant and shall not accumulate water.
    • At least 2 means of entry must be provided for each public or common use swimming pool (some exceptions apply).  A sloped entry or lift must be one of the primary means of access.
    • Handrails must be provided for means of entry to swimming pool and must comply with requirements.

    Access Board. Accessible Sports Facilities. Accessed October 13, 2010.

    Recreation, Park, and Health Promotion Grant and Program Resources

    Resources for Community Facility Development

    • USDA Rural Development Office: They have grants for community facilities.  They also offer direct and guaranteed loans for building community facilities.
    • State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources: Open Space, Land Acquisition and Development Grants.  This is a grant in aid program designed for communities who wish to acquire and/or develop land for recreational uses.  Swimming pools and community centers qualify for funding under this program.
    • Illinois Department of Natural Resources: Illinois Trails Program: they fund the development of a variety of recreational trails.
    • Simplified Municipal Telecommunications Tax: This enables municipalities to impose a tax on the sale and use of a variety of telecommunications equipment and services. The village of St. Joseph, IL, voted to apply this tax to cellular phone equipment and service. They are using the revenue to fund parks and recreation.
    • Kresge Foundation:  They offer grants for facility development, healthy community partnerships, developing healthy environments and more.
    • American Hiking Society: They have grants to help fund the development of recreation trails.
    • Rails-to-Trails Conservancy: They provide reports and information on the value and importance of trails and greenways. They also have a Trail-Building Toolbox and a Trail-Building Service which offer referrals and information for individuals and/or organizations that seek more local assistance with trail development in local communities.
    • Federal Transportation Enhancements Grants: This program addresses bicycle and pedestrian accommodations that are made with road improvements and other transportation projects. For more information, and for state-specific information go to
    • Walk with Ease: Offered as a self-guided course or in a community setting, it provides evidence based, health promotion programs for people with arthritis.


    Resources for Community Recreation and Park Programs

    • National Recreation and Park Association: They maintain a list of government and foundation grants in the areas of health, children/families, natural resources and other recreation and parks related areas
    • The Allstate Foundation: They provide grant funding for recreation and parks in the U.S.  They have a record of giving in Illinois, since they have a major headquarters office outside of Chicago.
    • National Football League in partnership with Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC): NFL Youth Football Fund Grassroots Program to Support Community and School Football Field Improvements
    • Retirement Research Foundation: They fund projects in the Midwest only. This foundation is headquartered in Chicago and gives generously in the Chicago area.
    • Dr. Scholl Foundation:  They make grants in Illinois for youth, individuals with disabilities and older adults.  They have a history of funding private non-profit and public recreation/parks organizations.
    • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: They make grants to improve the health and health care of Americans.  Last year they granted $1.2 Billion.  They have grant programs and allow organizations to submit unsolicited grants under several subject headings.  The one that fits older adults well is: Vulnerable Populations.
    • Active Options:  Developed by the Foothills Park and Recreation District in suburban Denver, Colorado, this program was researched and documented in the form of a “How to” program guide for developing wellness programs for older adults.
    • General Mills Grants: During fiscal year 2013, the General Mills Foundation distributed grants and matching gifts totaling nearly $26.9 million. General Mills Foundation awards grants for hunger and nutrition wellness initiatives such as Champions for Healthy Kids, a program to support organizations that promote healthy, active lifestyles in children.
    • State Farm Good Neighbor Service-Learning Grants: One hundred $1,000 grants, funded by the State Farm Companies Foundation, are available from Youth Service America for teachers, youth (ages 5-25), and school-based service-learning coordinators to implement service-learning projects for National Youth Service Day. State Farm Good Neighbor Service-Learning Grants enable youth and educators to bring the positive benefits of service-learning to more young people across America. Service-learning is a teaching method that combines meaningful service with curriculum or program-based learning. Schools and organizations use service-learning as a tool to help youth build stronger academic skills, foster civic responsibility, and develop leadership skills.
    • Captain Planet Foundation Grants: The Captain Planet Foundation wishes to fund community environmental grants. The Captain Planet Foundation funds and supports hands-on environmental projects for children and youth. Projects funded by the Captain Planet Foundation must promote an understanding of environmental issues, focus on hands-on involvement, involve children and young adults 6-18 (elementary through high school), promote interaction and cooperation within the group, help young people develop planning and problem-solving skills, include adult supervision, and commit to follow-up communication with the Foundation.
    • Youth Venture Seed Grants: Youth Venture is giving young people (ages 12-20) the opportunity to do something about an issue dear to their hearts. The national nonprofit provides them with the tools necessary to start their own clubs, organizations or businesses that give back to their communities. Grant awardees will receive a seed grant of up to $1,000 to start a venture and will be given access to scholarships, awards, special conference invitations, media opportunities and a national network of active young people. Applicants must submit an application, present a plan and meet specific Youth Venture requirements.
    • Coca-Cola Foundation: The Coca-Cola Foundation supports initiatives that encourage healthy active living.


    General Funding and Grant Seeking/Writing Resources

    • Candid: They have a large database that can be searched by keyword and several grant indexes useful for identifying prospective foundations to approach. Several Illinois locations have cooperating collections: Carbondale Public Library, Rock Island Public Library, Evanston Public Library, Donors Forum of Chicago, Non-Profit Resource Center at the University of Illinois Springfield. You can access their powerful database through these collections for free.
    • Forefront: Forefront offers a knowledge center with free access to reports, templates, and other grant resources.
    • Guidestar: You can obtain information regarding foundations and non-profits from this website.
    • National Recreation and Park Association: They offer a grants page with announcements of park and recreation-related grants available.
    • Illinois Department of Human Services: They have a Grant Alerts System (GAS) for funding opportunities, grant writing tips and more.
    • Illinois Association of Park Districts: Grant announcements page. They have a Power Play Grant Program that provides grants small seed grants for the development of after-school programs.