The Shape of Things to Come: Adult Playgrounds

Caregivers: There’s a fitness movement afoot that may make you jump for joy. In the last year, adult outdoor playgrounds with low impact-exercise equipment have been springing up around the country.

Some are incorporated into kiddie playgrounds, known as “multigenerational playgrounds.” Others are near the children’s area, while still others are separate older adult areas (“senior playgrounds”).

Designers have skipped the swings in favor of balance beams, sit-up and chin-up bars, cross trainers, stationary exercise bikes, fitness stations and walking paths.

What does that have to do with caregivers? You can take your grandkids and both of you can get health benefits. Or, go with your parent, relative, spouse or friend. While they’re on the body flexer, you can be doing pushups! Off caregiving duty? Walk (good move!) to the playground and work on boosting your muscle strength, balance, stability, and range of motion.

One reason these playgrounds are gaining ground is because exercise is good for the body and the brain. Studies show that physical exercise may help ward off – or at least mitigate – obesity, depression, diabetes, heart disease and memory loss.

Grown-up playgrounds are also an antidote to isolation. Physicians and social scientists say that too much aloneness can lead to loneliness, depression and poor physical health. On the other hand, social interaction – getting out and being with people – has positive health benefits.

The healthcare company Humana and the nonprofit KaBOOM! have partnered to construct a slew of multigenerational playgrounds. Since last year, they have built them in Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando, FL, Seattle, WA, New Orleans, LA, Greensboro, NC, Albuquerque, NM, Tucson, AZ, Nashville, TN, San Antonio, TX, Alburnett, IA and Thermal, CA.

No sweat! This month is Tampa, FL’s turn (in time for the Democratic National Convention), with another to follow in Charlotte, NC. You guessed it, ready to roll at the Republican convention.

Non-Humana playgrounds include Springfield Township, OH, Ithaca, NY., and four in Florida’s Miami-Dade County.

The City of New York is hot to trot, too. They’ve built an adult playground in the Bronx near Yankee Stadium and hope to construct two dozen more around the city by 2014.

We’re not exactly on the cutting edge. For nearly 20 years, China and Japan have had outdoor exercise areas for the over age 60 set. Austria, Germany and other parts of Europe have them, too. And, a couple of years ago, the Hyde Park Senior Playground, affectionately known as the “pensioner’s playground,” debuted in London.

The best part about adult playgrounds? No hefty gym club fee. No loud music. No twenty-something, ridiculously toned bodies.

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