It’s so simple!  Movement will keep us healthy.  Inactivity will make us sick.  Exercise is increasingly important as we age for both our mental and physical well-being.  It is hard for many of us to maintain a reasonable level of exercise and a community-approach to this may boost our engagement levels.  One idea that’s taking shape is outdoor fitness parks.

On my various trips through China I have been amazed at all the positive activity taking place in open spaces including parks, courtyards and even large walkways.  I’ve travelled through many different areas in China and I consistently see this scenario in most places.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a large industrial city or a smaller town.  I find it especially interesting to see so many older people in their parks, dancing, doing Tai Chi or exercising on outdoor fitness machines.  It creates a wonderful sense of community.  Standing on the sidelines is fine but be prepared to be invited in as have my family and I.  No level of skill is needed to have fun and get some exercise.

On a recent trip to Courtenay, B.C. on Vancouver Island I encountered my first example of a Canadian outdoor fitness park for seniors.  The Riverside Fit Park had equipment similar to what I saw in the parks in China.  The photo attached is from this park.  These are innovative ways for seniors to have some fun, meet up with others, spend no money, and look after their health.  The U.K. has also hopped on board with this idea.  An article in the Daily Mail (UK) newspaper calls them “playgrounds for the over-60 crowd”(1).

Since that first visit to Courtenay I’ve learned that there are 18 similar initiatives in B.C. (list below).  According to a government website these “ActNowBCSeniors Community Parks are designed to help older adults stay mobile, physically active and healthy in their communities”.  There is a significant range of weather in these 18 communities, demonstrating that these outdoor fitness centres are not the exclusive domain of moderate weather locations.  This would work elsewhere in Canada too.

The concerns about health care costs, stress on the system and the aging population are increasing in volume. These outdoor parks are exactly the type of initiative that is needed throughout Canada.  Getting more Canadians exercising and socializing is bound to reduce health care costs and increase life satisfaction.  It seems so simple – build more of these parks and provide seniors with the opportunity for exercise where there are no barriers such as a fee.  Make it easy – make it fun.  Let’s face it – most of us enjoy acting like kids again.  However, this isn’t going to be a ‘build it and they will come’ solution.  These fitness parks need to be marketed so awareness is increased – consistently.  The parks need to become a meeting place and this means solutions such as designating music times or special instructor supported times.  There could be themes set in advance so those who like country music can exercise to their favourite beat and those who prefer disco will know when to avoid the park!  Make it fun so seniors will feel encouraged to give the equipment a try.

List of 18 communities in BC allocated out door fitness park grants (2):

Cranbrook

Nelson

Kelowna

Kamloops

Abbotsford

Burnaby

Surrey

Richmond

Vancouver

District of North   Vancouver

Sidney

Nanaimo

Courtenay

Terrace

Prince George

Dawson Creek

North Cowichan

Oak Bay

 

(1)  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-511253/Playtime-Grandma-Council-opens-new-playground-60s.html

http://www2.news.gov.bc.ca/news_releases_2005-2009/2008HLS0016-001568.htm