Senior Playgrounds are Quickly Going Viral
Baby Boomers, who numbered around 75 million in 2015, have entered their senior years and they are redefining aging. This generation of seniors more than any prior want to stay active and involved in life.
We all know that exercise is the key to staying active and independent, yet not enough seniors exercise on a consistent basis.
An idea that could change that has gained popularity in many other countries and on four continents and is beginning to take hold in the United States: senior playgrounds.
Senior Playgrounds Are Going Viral
Senior playgrounds also called adult outdoor fitness areas, originated in China in 1995 and quickly spread to Japan and throughout Europe. They can vary in set up and equipment, but at their core, these are outdoor activity and exercise areas built specifically for the needs of adults.
There may be traditional exercise equipment, such as stationary bikes or weight machines, or more playful adult-sized jungle gyms, balance beams, and rope bridges. Some include walking paths and areas to play bocce ball or table tennis.
Benefits of Senior Playgrounds
The health and life benefits that seniors can reap from playgrounds are unlimited. The benefits include all the cardiovascular and wellness benefits associated with any type of exercise.
But there are specific advantages associated with the machines and equipment commonly found in these parks, such as:
- Improved balance that prevents falls. Falls are one of the main contributing factors for seniors entering assisted living and care facilities.
- Increased flexibility and range of motion to make it easier for seniors to perform activities of daily living (ADLs), such as independent bathing and dressing. Inability to perform ADLs is a major reason that seniors stop living independently.
- Encourages seniors to exercise outdoors which has been found to be more beneficial than solely indoor activity.
- Has been found to increase socialization. Many of the playgrounds are designed with social interaction in mind. Increased socialization and physical activity have been shown to improve mood, decrease depression and slow cognitive decline.
- Turns exercise into play rather than work. This is not a benefit to be overlooked. Many of us associate exercise with boredom, drudgery and possibly pain. Changing that association with having fun playing with friends and peers is powerful and can encourage more consistent activity.
Senior Focused Playgrounds
Some may question the need for senior-focused outdoor activity areas when weight rooms and gyms abound. Senior playgrounds have some advantages as well over traditional exercise spaces such as gyms.
Seniors may be less likely to join gyms out of fear of feeling out of place or self-conscious. “Gym intimidation” is a real phenomenon and can be intensified in some gyms that are geared to the younger clientele.
Also, gyms and other indoor fitness centers such as the YMCA have costly monthly membership fees.
Senior Playground are Free
Senior playgrounds located in municipal parks can provide a free, welcoming space that could encourage more seniors to remain active.
For seniors to gain maximum benefit from activity while remaining safe, the activity and equipment must be focused on their health and safety needs. Upper body exercises become more important as we age to maintain back and arm strength.
Gaps on such equipment as rope bridges must be designed with a senior’s stride in mind. All equipment must be sturdily built and include steady handrails to assuage seniors’ fully justified fear of falls.
Senior focused playgrounds don’t necessarily have to be seniors only. While some countries like Spain and Germany build exclusive senior parks due to their aging populations, others are building multi-generational parks where seniors and kids can play simultaneously.
KaBOOM! a nonprofit organization that builds playgrounds in underserved and low-income areas has begun to focus on building multi-generational playgrounds. These playgrounds can be ideal in urban locations where space is at a premium and where many seniors may be the primary caregivers of their grandchildren.
Senior Playgrounds in the United States
Until recently in the United States, most senior playgrounds have been built within gated senior communities or associated with senior centers.
In addition to nonprofits like KaBOOM!, for-profit companies such as Must Have Play and Play by Design are moving to expand senior playgrounds into community parks.
Florida has several senior or multi-generational playgrounds in Miami, Orlando, and Tampa, but they are also starting to pop up in Georgia and Texas.
As more seniors hear about and try senior playgrounds, hopefully, more organizations and Parks departments will take notice and the playgrounds will become more widespread.
Today’s seniors are looking to stay active and independent as long as possible. Senior playgrounds can be another way to make exercise more fun, more accessible and more effective for more seniors.