Does the South Valley Need a Senior Playground?
Last updated 5/25/2023 at 6:35pm | View PDF
Senior playgrounds are places where older adults can get exercise and fresh air while developing their strength and coordination. They are popular in countries such as China and Finland, and were slowly gaining popularity in the U.S. before the pandemic.
They are still few and far between in the U.S., however, to some degree as a result of people not understanding – or perhaps not agreeing on – what exactly a senior playground is.
"A senior playground is an outdoor space with beneficial, low-impact fitness equipment for older adults," explained Lindsey Stafford, marketing manager for AAA State of Play, which is based in Indianapolis.
"A senior playground en-courages older adults to stay moving and get adequate exercise, while also enjoying the outdoors," she said. "It can be a great draw for communities with large populations of seniors, as it provides a place to come together, socialize and enjoy beneficial fitness experiences. A senior playground is much less intimidating than an indoor gym."
"Personally, I don't use the term 'senior playground,'" said Aarni Mertala, sport concept manager at Lappset, based in Turku, Finland. He prefers using terms such as "senior park" and "senior sport."
"The idea is to provide activities for elderly who might have lost some physical capabilities that younger adults have," he said. "Of course, we need to understand that this is not all together an age-related issue. Some younger adults are also struggling with daily activities. Walking ability – lower body strength combined with obesity – balance, coordination, mobility are also components of physical capabilities that will vanish if not used. If you don't use it, you lose it."
"Our outdoor fitness equipment is designed for all adults but we find that it is most beneficial for seniors," said Stafford. "We've found that the design of the equipment, which only uses your body weight as resistance in most cases, makes physical activity more accessible to most seniors.
"That being said, we recently added a line of additional senior-specific fit-ness, or 'assisted fitness,' which includes some support rails and additional safety," she added.
Indoor vs. Outdoor
Senior playground equipment is different than indoor gym equipment.
"Unlike standard gym equipment, our options are designed to be outdoors," said Stafford. "They are made from materials that withstand various weather conditions. Additionally, standard gym equipment can be dangerous or confusing for many people. The machines are not always easy to use. Our adult fitness equipment is meant to be intuitive and encourage movement with minimal resistance."
"The obvious difference is that our equipment is outdoors," said Mertala. "Being out in a fresh air is much more refreshing than indoor training. Probably our equipment concentrates more on balance, joint mobility and coordination than what is normally considered as 'indoor gym equipment.' In other words, in our equipment the body is used as a whole entity – like in everyday life – not doing only isolative movements for one muscle group at a time."
Most of the senior play-ground equipment from AAA State of Play are ordered by parks, cities, homeowner associations and assisted living facilities, according to Stafford.
"We've worked with a county health department as well," she added.
Lappset is new to the U.S. market and has not installed any senior fitness parks yet. The company has installed many playgrounds in Europe.
"Parks Departments are the biggest purchaser of senior fitness equipment," said Mertala. "Private senior centers We also offer free consultation with a sales rep to help with the process."
"While we do not have grants available for the products, we refer people to organizations like AARP, health insurance companies and foundations that have grants that are focused on health and wellness for all ages," said Mertala. "Often times, cities get state or federal funding for parks. This money can be used for the purchase of senior fitness equipment."
Ralston Tower Park in Modesto
Ralston Tower Park, a park for seniors adjacent to a retirement community in downtown Modesto, is expected to open in late spring. The park includes a senior fitness area, as well as a sport court activity area, walking paths, board game tables, a horseshoe pit and a central plaza with yoga paving. The new park also has a gated entry, perimeter fencing, safety area lighting and security cameras.
"We're excited about getting it done," said Nathan Houx, parks planning and development manager with the City of Modesto's Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods Department.
The Modesto City Council suggested the project at a December 2014 meeting. In March 2016, O'Dell Engineering, based in Modesto, was hired by the city to create a master plan to develop the one-third acre property, which had not been renovated since it opened in the 1970s.
"It was challenging to get grants," said Houx. "It took a few years to be able to do it."
The estimated $1.2 million cost to develop Ralston Tower Park came from two grants: the U.S. Federal, Land and Water Conservation Funding Grant, and State of California Community Development Block Grant Funding.