Priority Health and National Fitness Campaign are changing health outcomes for all Michiganders

By 2025, one-third of Michigan communities will have access to free, world-class outdoor wellness programming

December 22, 2023

How do you change health outcomes and make an impact? You invest in healthy communities. Priority Health and National Fitness Campaign (NFC) have been on a joint mission to do just that since 2019 – striving to provide every Michigander, regardless of ability, location or financial status – access to free outdoor wellness infrastructure. As the first official State Sponsor to join forces with NFC, Priority Health continues to lead the way, recently announcing a multi-year partnership through 2025.

The fiscal and humanitarian costs of sedentary lifestyles can no longer be ignored. For the first time in 100 years, life expectancy in America has decreased for two consecutive years in a row. Both the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) predict that 50% of Americans will be obese. Now, with the support of health-conscious mayors, civic and campus leaders across the state of Michigan, Priority Health and NFC are taking action.

Building on the success of wellness programming in 12 communities including Highland Park, Detroit, Grand Traverse County and Grand Rapids, to name a few, Priority Health funded Fitness Courts® are currently accessible within walking distance of 36,369 residents and within cycling distance of 147,748 residents across the state of Michigan. To date, the Michigan campaign has already united 13 local partners and sponsors with over $3 million of public-private investment. 

By 2025, total investment from NFC, Priority Health, municipalities, universities and local sponsors will exceed $10 million and reach one-third of communities in Michigan. That’s approximately 3.3 million Michiganders who will have equitable access to free outdoor wellness programming.

That’s the power of impact and the power of changing health outcomes in Michigan – one healthy community at a time.

Piloting Oakland University in 2019

Oakland University (OU) prides itself on being a leader in higher education when it comes to campus health and wellness initiatives. In August of 2019, Priority Health provided funding to help OU pilot their first Fitness Court in Michigan, showing the early promise of a statewide wellness campaign.

The Priority Health Fitness Court at Oakland University serves as a wellness hub for students, faculty, staff and members of the community and is easily accessible to cyclists, runners and people visiting campus. OU Campus Recreation has hosted small group classes on the Fitness Court, building community and creating equitable access to free outdoor fitness. 

All Fitness Courts are supported by a free to download mobile application, The Fitness Court App, which offers world-class workouts and acts like a coach in your pocket, serving up fun ways to stay fit while enjoying fresh air, sunshine and a healthy workout outdoors. 

Uniting Art, Fitness and Community Engagement in Belle Island

The Priority Health Fitness Court at Belle Isle Park brought together dynamic partners in the Detroit community. Celebrated with an all-star launch event in September 2022, this Fitness Court was made possible by HYPE Athletics, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in conjunction with the statewide partnership between Priority Health and NFC. 

Strategically located at the historic Belle Isle Athletic Structure along the water, the Fitness Court location provides access to approximately 59,000 Michiganders within walking or biking distance. When visitors arrive to complete their bodyweight workout, they can also enjoy some added Detroit style featuring a custom art piece by renowned Detroit artist Phillip Simpson. 

“Growing up in Detroit, my family and I spent many days at the Belle Isle State Park. From family functions, to hanging out with friends, now as a family man and taking my girls to Belle Island to play and relax – I love it,” said Phillip “Phil Fresh” Simpson. “Now, I have the pleasure of being a part of something so much bigger than me. It’s about community, about health, about people coming together.”

Belle Isle is the sixth Priority Health Fitness Court within the metro Detroit region. The first five include Oakland University, Madison Heights, Marysville, Highland Park and Redford. In the metro-Detroit area alone, these six Priority Health Fitness Courts are accessible to 238,000 Michiganders. More than a quarter of a million people have access to free world-class outdoor fitness within a 10-minute bike ride of their home – that’s impact.

Future for Michiganders – Healthy Communities change Health Outcomes

President of Priority Health, Praveen Thadani, believes that everyone has the right to a healthy life. Thadani emulates that sentiment through the vision of the organization which focuses on simple, affordable, equitable and exceptional healthcare. 

Since 2019, Priority Health and NFC have impacted health outcomes for 12 healthy communities in Michigan. These communities have invested in healthy infrastructure and wellness programming, providing 623,000 Michiganders a safe and welcoming environment to move their body and invest in their mental wellbeing – breaking down any financial barriers to access.

The City of Kalamazoo, a 2022 Priority Health grant awardee, was proud to join the campaign in October as a leading Healthy Community. “Kalamazoo has several wonderful trails, parks and ways to get fit and maintain good health,” said Kalamazoo Mayor David Anderson. “The Fitness Court® will now provide our residents with free access to high-quality workouts and create equitable access to exercise for our community.”

To date, 66 fitness ambassadors have joined the Michigan campaign reinforcing a strong commitment to community programming for all fitness levels from engaged fitness trainers. Ambassadors like JodiAnn Stevenson, Wellness Director at the Grand Traverse Bay YMCA, have brought YMCA fitness programming outdoors through a program called “Adult Recess.” These 45 minute HIIT circuit classes were hosted by JodiAnn weekly on Saturdays this past September and featured a wide range of variations to adapt to all fitness levels.

With five healthy community site partner launches already planned for 2023, the Priority Health Fitness Court network will continue to break down barriers to free world-class outdoor fitness and wellness programming. 

“We are thrilled to have Priority Health continue with NFC on the journey to health and wellness for Michiganders. We know the health impact that occurs when communities design the built environment intentionally to promote pedestrian movement,” said Mitch Menaged, founder of NFC. “When people invest in their health, good things happen. In the near future, world-class fitness will be free across the state of Michigan! This growing network will allow everyone to take part in a lifelong wellness journey, keeping their body and mind strong, active and engaged.” 

The continuation of the partnership affirms the success of the campaign at the local and state level as well as the tremendous potential for further health impact as the network grows to 50 Healthy Communities by 2025. When all Michiganders can walk, jog and cycle to a Priority Health Fitness Court – everyone will have access to a healthier life.