Playgrounds for an Aging Population are Popping Up in Fairfax and Worldwide

Megan called her parents the other day to check-in and see how they are doing. She was surprised when her dad told her that her mom was at the playground. How could that be? Her only close-by grandchildren were at camp that day!

Her dad explained that she goes to the senior playground once or twice a week for exercise and to see her friends, and that there are now a couple of these types of playgrounds in Fairfax!

Senior playgrounds are growing in popularity in the Metro DC area, and worldwide. The first senior citizen playground is believed to have been built in China in 1995, when China adopted a law involving a nationwide physical fitness program that focused on its senior citizens. After the law was put into effect, parks across China incorporated equipment that seniors 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 communities. Similar parks were established throughout Japan, and are referred to as Nursing Care Prevention Parks. Senior playgrounds were subsequently established in Finland, Berlin, Germany, Canada, England and the United States. Today, they are found worldwide.

How Do Senior Citizen Playgrounds Differ from Traditional Playgrounds?

As science continues to show the correlation between exercise, health, and fitness and the importance of these things to seniors, playgrounds for the older population are in high demand. A senior citizen playground emphasizes core muscle strength and focuses on activities such as walking, building strength, and increasing flexibility. Some equipment is designed for use by those with limited mobility or those who are wheelchair-bound. These playgrounds differ from traditional playgrounds in that you won’t find monkey bars, high slides, or jungle gyms, but rather, you’ll see equipment that is safer for the joints, and activities that encourage gentle strengthening and flexibility. However, you might find some traditional items, such as swings or a see-saw.

Senior Playgrounds Have Lots of Benefits

Exercise is key to a long, healthy life. While exercise and proper diet are components of preventative medicine, it is never too late to start getting in shape. A playground designed for senior citizens offers a chance to enjoy more exercise than simply walking back and forth. The following are additional benefits of senior playgrounds:

  • They offer variety: A variety of equipment encourages activity and mobility without risking boredom. The variety helps ensure that you get a well-rounded workout.
  • They are free to use: You aren’t paying anyone for a 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.
  • They counter isolation and loneliness: Seniors can become isolated and lonely, causing them to fall into depression. Access to outdoor play spaces may also help counter the isolation and associated mood disorders that affect many older people, which the World Health Organization predicts will be the second-leading cause of disability globally by 2020. By visiting a senior citizen playground, you can interact with others who understand and relate to your situation. Building friendships can be easier on the playground.
  • They foster socialization: Some equipment is designed for more than one person, and this fosters socialization, working together, and building friendships in a fun atmosphere. Simply getting outside and having fun while making new friends is just as healthy as exercising muscles, building stamina, and increasing flexibility.
    They improve balance: Seniors playgrounds feature equipment that promotes low-impact exercise. The equipment includes static bikes, body flexors and elliptical machines that help promote flexibility and balance. The hope is that improving balance in seniors through fun activities can lead to fewer falls.
  • They bring communities together: Following construction of multi-generational or senior playgrounds, some seniors form groups to continue their physical activity and socialization. The playgrounds help revitalize outdated parks and bring communities together through shared fun. In some communities, grandparents are the primary caregivers for children while parents work, and the multigenerational playgrounds offer a common activity space. Sometimes these types of playgrounds can even draw in middle school and high school students who want to use the adult fitness equipment.
  • They Make Fiscal Sense: The senior playgrounds and parks make fiscal sense too as investing in programs that keep the population healthy and alert may reduce the amount of expensive health care costs.

Fairfax County is Investing in Outdoor Fitness for Seniors

According to the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA), “outdoor fitness is an emerging trend nationwide that provides an opportunity to address health equity issues and to improve parks and communities.” In early 2015, FCPA launched a study of outdoor fitness as a possible way to meet the health and recreation needs of county residents. The benefits of the outdoor playground for seniors and other residents were agreed upon, and an outdoor gym was built at Gum Springs Community Center in the Mount Vernon Area, and another popped up in Lincolnia Park, using money from a grant from the Greenfields Outdoor Fitness Company. Others are being planned for the future.

In the past few years, KaBOOM, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., that helps communities create play facilities, has built more than 50 multigenerational playgrounds at costs ranging from $25,000 to more than $100,000, with help from corporate sponsorships.

Take Care of Yourself

Exercise and physical activity are an important part of healthy aging. They can help prevent diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions affecting older adults. So, be sure to take steps to preserve your health and well-being (and also be sure to check with a doctor before you start an exercise program). Remember, part of taking care of yourself is planning for your future and for your loved ones. Please call us to make an appointment for a no-cost initial consultation:

Fairfax Elder Law: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law: 540-479-1435
Rockville Elder Law: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law: 202-587-2797

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