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Adult-sized playgrounds to encourage physical activity at all ages

My proposal is to rethink what play means in society by redesigning urban outdoor gyms. By turning them from exercise-centred focus to play-centred philosophy, where instead of bars and machines, different movement challenges are presented to the users to favour engagement.

By creating environments designed specifically to enable play for the adult population we could change the paradigm of exercise. Cities should have spaces that allow us in an equitable way, to take a casual training session, simply because the opportunity is there, and it's fun to do. We need spaces that continue to challenge us as when we were kids. 

Such "adult-enabled" playgrounds would require to use basic human skills a crawling, climbing, balancing and carrying. They should cater for various levels of physical capabilities and complexity, as well as being fun and self-engagingThey would be co-created with the community alongside with expert "movers" that would advise about the of design challenging environments that demand full range of movement at different levels.


Some resources to spark the discussion:

Werle, C.O.C., Wansink, B. & Payne, C.R. Is it fun or exercise? The framing of physical activity biases subsequent snacking. Mark Lett 26, 691–702 (2015).

Beck KL, Weeks LE, Montelpare WJ, MacDonald DJ. Identifying important factors for older adults' physical activity participation across individual/group, structured/unstructured contexts. Eur J Ageing. 2016;13(3):209-218. Published 2016 May 13. doi:10.1007/s10433-016-0376-1


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Miroslava Katsur 11 months ago

I agree that active engagement on a playground could be good for all ages, because any physical activity is good, unless it's excessive (e.g. running marathons without any previous training). I discussed this with my grandmother. She said that it is engrained in her generation that playgrounds are for kids. She also expressed her feelings about that she would be self-conscious, would be scared to fall, get hurt or get dirty. Moreover, she said she would be scared that people, and herself included, could think of her as if her mind is in a child-like state (i.e. she is not an adult anymore, her cognition deteriorated, and she does not correspond to ideals of how older people should behave).
I think that it would be better to have such playground indoors, with other older folks coming there, shock/absorbent floor and maybe some support (e.g. as these types people use to be safe up on trees in adventure parks). Maybe a first-aider should be present as well.
What do you think could change the opinion of older people like my grandmother about such playgrounds? Do you envision them suitable for a wide range of users e.g. 50 years, 80 years? Do you think outdoors or indoors playgrounds would be best?
This is definitely an innovative idea! I applaud you for bringing unusual ideas to this forum.

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Octavio Zamudio 11 months ago

Hi Miroslava, it's great that you had the chance to talk to your grandma, at last, the users that would benefit most from the ideas we are proposing here are them! This exactly what I meant by helping to change the stigma about "play". I'd prefer to call it movegrounds, instead of playgrounds, if that work best for all. But it is true, we are not used to see adults moving with wide range of motion, other than structured, and socially-established practices as running, or yoga, or whatever that might be.
In regards to this, what this is about, is enabling a long-term vision and mind-shift about movement. Indeed, depending of the weather conditions, it would be nice at least have these protected with roofs of some kind, that could be removed during summer, for example.
Perhaps it is not possible to modify already rooted ideas in the current older generations, but think about the younger generations that by 2050 will be in the same position. It is not too late for them, is it? These "movegrounds" would be designed with a wide range of users in mind. Current older users could practice in groups, instructed by "movers" that help them to do it safely and progress according to the individual needs.

I remember this project from years ago, this idea lingers in my mind since then.

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Miroslava Katsur 11 months ago

I see! I think there's already a shift in attitudes to playgrounds among middle aged adults: many do indoor climbing, go to adventure parks, exercise outside using publicly available equipment in parks, and so on. I totally agree that the biggest challenge will be changing people's attitudes, but it is not impossible - many folks would be eager to explore these playgrounds because they want to be healthy. I remember seeing a very old lady exercising outside and I thought how unusual this sight was. Yet, I would be happy and inspired to see more older people exercising outside. I'm actually subscribed to a lady on a Fitbit, who is 60+, and her photos of her workouts are so inspiring :) Anyway, I think there should be a survey done in a sample of older generation to find out what kind of playground they would prefer to exercise

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Miroslava Katsur 11 months ago

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Angie Bianco 9 months ago

Given the pandemic outdoor gym / activies are even more critical. It's important to design these to be accessible to older generations with soft surfaces. The issue I've found is that even the outdoor gyms are rare in London.

These could easily be provided within sheltered accommodation communities but that means the organisations who run these would need to have an enabling mindset for the residents benefits and err less on risks associated with this type of equipment. We need to start to include the over 60s in the ageing population which is when they tend to be less mobile or have age related medical conditions.

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Georgie Cade 9 months ago

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