The importance of exercise, particularly for older adults, has been well-documented, as have the benefits of spending time outdoors. If you or an aging loved one do not have access to a gym or simply prefer to be outside, why not reap the benefits of outdoor exercise? That may be easier said than done. Finding a suitable place for outdoor aerobic activity can be difficult for many seniors and you may find yourself limited by the kinds of exercises you feel comfortable doing outside.
Enter senior playgrounds, outdoor parks with exercise equipment that have gained popularity in Europe and Asia. Now, these playgrounds are gaining popularity in the US. In lieu of swings and sliding boards that you might associate with a playground for children, senior playgrounds come equipped with low-impact exercise equipment that can be used in an outdoor setting. Senior playgrounds not only promote an outdoor exercise regimen for older adults, but give them a place to socialize with other seniors in the sunshine with fresh air.
What’s in a Senior Playground?: A Look at Senior Playgrounds Around the World
The senior playground in London’s Hyde Park includes a stationary bike, a sit-up bench, and a cross-trainer. Japan, whose aging population has led to its status as a leader in senior health and research, launched its Nursing Care Prevention Parks in 2004 across the nation. These parks include traditional exercise equipment as well as obstacle courses, balance beams, and jungle gyms designed specifically for older adults. Whereas the 1970s saw the rise of walking trails with exercise stations, workouts rather than walks have now taken over the outdoor fitness scene.
Researchers at Finland’s University of Lapland studied the benefits of senior exercise in public playgrounds by measuring the effect of three months of playground exercise on balance, speed, and coordination. They also interviewed participants on their mental state after three months of access to the public playground. Many noted that they felt an increased level of confidence and empowerment in their physical abilities.
Social and Community Impact: Multi-generational Play
Depending on cultural norms, in some countries, older adults may feel uncomfortable exercising alongside younger people or may want to go to the park purely to exercise and socialize with other seniors. Not all cultures promote multi-generational interaction in the same way. One park in Berlin, for instance, requires explicit permission for anyone below 65 to play in public senior parks. But cultural expectations aside, the growing number of seniors who are primary caregivers for children in the United States means that American senior parks may be a blessing for seniors watching or raising young children, and may promote multi-generational interaction and socializing.
Senior Playgrounds in the US
In November 2011, Bobby Dinkins, Director of the Boyd Esler Senior and Community Center secured a $33,500 community development grant to help fund a senior playground in Springfield Township, Ohio.
Most recently, Gavelston County, Texas launched its very own Carbide Park, a playground for seniors. Filled with balance beams and other activity equipment, Carbide Park is a hub of social activity for seniors, as well as a place for them to stay fit.
Since 2010, over 20 senior playgrounds have sprung up around. Non-profit organization KaBOOM has teamed up with the Humana Foundation to help build several new senior playgrounds. Keep an eye out in your neighborhood to see if there may be a senior playground popping up near you!
What do you think of public senior parks in the United States? Do you think they will grow in popularity? Would you or a loved one enjoy using a public senior park? Let us know in the comments below!