Parents and children love going to the playground. For the kids it about being outside and the freedom to run, climb, slide, swing and play with friends. Parents know it helps improve their child’s motor skills and coordination, while interaction with other children help build social and communication skills. And of course, the fresh air and sunshine have health benefits too.
Children and the elderly have much in common, they need to interact with others of similar age and physical activity to develop their bodies or improve and maintain fitness.
For that reason, senior parks are popping up all over the world, with equipment upgrades of course. These parks generally feature low-impact equipment such as exercise bikes, cross trainers, flex runners, flex wheels, sit-up benches and low-speed treadmills for improving muscle strength, balance, flexibility and motor coordination.
Much like the children’s playground, the social side of senior parks is a vital component to well-being. Seniors often feel lonely and isolated and these parks is an ideal setting to meet people and make new friends.
Joana Hughes, spokesperson for The Royal Parks management agency, based in London says: “While there are certainly physical health aspects to the playground, it is also there to nurture social and mental health.”
China set the trend when in 1995, they set up a recreational park for seniors. Japan took to the idea quickly and several European countries followed. Spain in particular, has embraced the concept and the government is funding these parks. Their aim is to keep the ageing population mentally alert and physically fit. Barcelona currently has about 300 senior parks.
The United States already have parks exclusive to seniors and have shifted their focus to creating multi-generational parks, for seniors and children. It is well known that children and the elderly communicate and interact well which adds to the mental well-being and happiness of both age groups.
KaBOOM!, an American non-profit organization helping communities build or rebuild playgrounds for children. Organizations like KaBOOM! and the Humana Foundation would team up to refurbish and rebuild these parks and also provide funding for maintenance.
KABOOM! recognizing the merits of multi-generational parks got to work immediately and have built over 53 such parks across the country already. At one of their Cleveland-based projects, the seniors formed a fitness club to foster interaction with their peers in their new park while the children played.
“Play is a great connector for adults and seniors and the children in their lives. In addition to the cognitive and physical benefits of play, it can also reduce stress in adults and is proven to help combat toxic stress in kids,” said Sarah Pinksy, Director of Client Services at KaBOOM! to The Huffington Post.
“These environments can be highly social,” Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging said to The Wall Street Journal. “There’s something positive and invigorating about that, especially if the children have moved away or a spouse has passed on.”
Exercise and outdoor activities has proved that getting out regularly help reduce the rates of hospitalization in elderly persons.
The City of La Marque, Galveston County, Texas, spent over $36,000 in 2014 to equip the Carbide Park for elderly citizens. The park boasts equipment such as fitness steps and ramps, cobweb floors, a zig-zag pipe, throttle bar, stretching boards, seated bar grabs, and several more useful for maintaining mobility, flexibility and improving balance.
“As we get to an aging population — those over 65 — you start looking at some of the major causes for hospitalization,” said Stephen Holmes, a commissioner in the county. “Much like you see kids gathering at playgrounds, I’m hoping to see the same thing with seniors here, gathering at playgrounds and creating a social aspect for them.”
The elderly certainly deserve to have recreational spaces to not only maintain and improve their mobility and fitness but also to connect with their peers and enjoy the company of children. All vital for their mental health and overall well-being.