ElderAuthority was founded as a way for us to share great ideas for getting older with each other. We know there will not be enough money, social services, or trained professionals to support 78 million baby boomers as we age. It really is up to us to help ourselves and each other.
Here is a really practical idea–playgrounds for seniors. It is not expensive, but its impact can be life transforming.
Senior citizen playgrounds are growing in popularity worldwide. Many playgrounds for senior citizens are operated by towns and cities and are incorporated into public parks.
What is a Senior Playground?
Senior citizen playgrounds differ from traditional playgrounds in the choice of equipment and intended use and purpose. They are designed specifically for the older population. You won’t find monkey bars, high slides, or jungle gyms, but rather, you’ll see equipment that is safer for the joints.
A playground for seniors emphasizes core muscle strength and focuses on activities such as walking, building strength, aerobic activity, and flexibility.
Playgrounds for seniors often include stationary bicycles, cross-trainers, sit-up machines, and treadmills. Some equipment is designed for use by those with limited mobility or those who are wheelchair-bound. However, you might find some traditional items, such as swings or a see-saw.
A playground designed for senior citizens offers a variety of equipment and encourages activity and mobility without risking boredom. Using different equipment tones different muscle groups. Even though the equipment is designed to be less strenuous, it is still possible to overexert yourself if you are using a muscle group that hasn’t been exercised for a long time. By exercising at a senior citizen playground, you are in full control of how much you do.
Having access to free equipment in a senior playground means you aren’t paying anyone for a gym membership, nor do you need to worry about getting your money’s worth. You are free to come and go as you please and can use the equipment of your choosing. The variety helps ensure that you get a well-rounded workout.
Seniors can become isolated and lonely leading to depression. By visiting a senior citizen playground, you can interact with others who understand and relate to your situation. Building friendships can be easier.
Some equipment is designed for more than one person, fostering socialization, working together, and building friendships in a recreational atmosphere. Getting outside and laughing while making new friends is as important to your health as exercising muscles, building stamina, and increasing flexibility.
While there are reasons reserve a senior playground for the older demographic, there are also good arguments for incorporating a senior playground into a multi-generational park. The Huffington Post reports:
“At the Midway Safe Harbor Center community learning center outside of Orlando, the playground and adult fitness equipment have brought children, adults and seniors together. According to the Center director Brenda Knight, it is common for grandparents in this community to be the primary caregivers while parents are working. Before the playground and fitness stations were installed, they lacked a common activity space. The Center noted that middle and high school students, who would not typically frequent a play area, are using the adult fitness equipment. A community member also started an adults’ morning exercise program using the adult fitness equipment and there is a local physical therapist who brings her students to the equipment to exercise.”
The first senior citizen playground is believed to have been built in China in 1995. China adopted a national law that resulted in a nationwide physical fitness program. This program wasn’t geared toward youth, but, rather, elderly citizens. After the law was put into effect, parks across China incorporated equipment all citizens could use. As more people visited China from other countries and saw the equipment and increased well-being of China’s seniors, they incorporated similar practices in their own communities.
In 2003, Finland designed a playground specifically for seniors and performed a scientific study to measure the results. By 2004, similar parks were established throughout Japan. They are referred to as Nursing Care Prevention Parks. Barcelona, Spain, currently has about 300 elderly parks. Parks were later built in Canada and England and then in the United States.
Make It Local
The United States has been slow to take up the idea of senior playgrounds. It will take some grass roots effort to create a senior playground near you. I doubt it will happen unless there is a vocal local demand. The non-profit, KaBOOM! is working with the Humana Foundation to build multi-generational playgrounds. Fifty-three have been built across the country. We need many, many more.
I am going to see what I can do about starting a discussion here in gorgeous southeast Michigan. I want this in my life. Here are some resources to get started where you live.