Fitness parks for older people are growing in popularity overseas. Maurice Broome is keen to see more of these senior playgrounds emerge in New Zealand.
The senior playground concept is thought to have originated from Finland. The University of Lapland’s research into ‘three-generational play’ revealed that three months of regular play at a prototype playground helped older people build muscle, reduce fat and improve their coordination, speed and balance.
The 2004 study looked at a group of 40 seniors’ aged 65 to 81 who had access to a senior playground. After three months of regular use, 90 minutes a week, the study found improvements in balance, speed and coordination. The seniors were more confident and moved faster, and felt empowered to manage physical obstacles when they met them. They also said they had fun taking on these challenges and enjoyed the social element.
The idea spread during the 2000s to many other countries including England, Germany, Canada and Spain. The United Kingdom’s first playground designed for seniors opened in Manchester in 2008 with the slogan ‘You’re never too old to play’. Two years later a playground opened in London’s Hyde Park. Barcelona now boasts more than 300 senior playground installations.
It appears, however, that Asia has outpaced Europe in the development of senior playgrounds. Also known as outdoor fitness parks, senior playgrounds started cropping up in China after a national law came into effect that mandated fitness programs for all ages.
“They’re all over the place in China and Japan,” reports Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging in Athletic Business. “They have everything from fitness-style equipment, such as a fly or lat pull-down, to parallel bars. The social aspect was one of the biggest things; on one side you’d find young people on children’s playground equipment and on the other side, older people on fitness equipment and playing table tennis. It really meshed the generations.”
How do we get more senior parks in New Zealand?
Senior playgrounds are beginning to emerge in New Zealand and Maurice Broome is keen to see more.
He has prepared a 20-page report for “Senior Parks” in his locality looking at what’s involved with getting a senior playground off the ground.
Broome suggests there are 10 points for people to consider if they want to see a senior playground established in their area:
- Most local councils in New Zealand have a Long term Plan, and often there may be a section about “Playgrounds”. Start to prepare a submission to have “Senior Parks” as playgrounds, included.
- Have a talk to the local council “Parks and Reserves Officer” and find what land is deemed Reserves/Parks, where some equipment for “Senior Parks” can be constructed. Often an area of about 150 metres by 35 metres may be enough.
- Is this area accessible to any local retirement villages and wheel chair accessible? This availability should increase the use of these “Senior Parks”.
- Can any local manufacturers construct equipment to meet required Safety and Health Standards/maybe some sponsorship?
- How about some letters to local papers, to gauge support from the community?
- Obtain support from local Medical Practioners/Physiotherapists for recommended equipment.
- Gain the support of any local Community Boards and local Old Care organisations.
- Ask the local council what Resource Consents maybe required.
- Check out on-line other relevant communities already with “Senior Parks”.
- Is there a possibility of these “Senior parks” being fully funded by the community/local businesses, with over-seeing by the Council staff rather than the full cost to existing rate payers?
So what should a senior playground comprise?
Website Senior Planet advises that the best installations help to improve balance and minimize the risk of falls, build muscle strength and tone, extend your range of motion, and improve your manual dexterity.
“Whether you’re climbing, pedalling, using the elliptical or walking a trail, the most immediate benefits of senior playgrounds are wellness related,” Senior Planet states. “Like any playground, those built for senior or multigenerational use also serve as social hubs. Face-to-face and multi-user equipment makes them great places to meet people and make friends locally, and once you’ve connected, you’re likely to show up tomorrow to meet again.”
Broome says they don’t need to be overly complicated.
“Signage for exercises, a few stepping stones/logs, some balancing planks with hand rails and some exercise bars at ground level and above ground level would be a great start,” he says.
In Broome’s opinion, a good senior playground should include the following elements:
An Introduction sign
Balancing planks with hand rails
Rails for stretching
If you’d like more information on getting a senior park up and running in your area, please contact the Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org who can put you in touch with Maurice Broome.