PARKS are not just for the grandkids. A Victorian trial has found that outdoor exercise parks specifically designed for seniors help them better enjoy life, and could lower the rate of costly falls common with ageing.
Nearly 70 Melbourne residents aged 60-87 took part in 18-week clinical trials by Victoria University.
Researchers found that exercise on balance beams, ramps, and step-up benches dramatically improved participants’ functional health, or their ability to cope with daily activities such as tying their shoes, shopping, gardening, or catching a tram.
Exercise physiologist Myrla Sales, who based her PhD on the research, said seniors have few exercise options in public spaces in Australia, despite the popularity of these kind of parks in other parts of the world, particularly Asia and Europe.
She is calling for more exercise parks for seniors to be co-located with children’s playgrounds so grandparents can exercise while supervising youngsters.
Dr Sales’ findings showed participants improved muscle strength, balance, and physical function, which are all risk factors for falls.
While only 17 per cent of volunteers in the study had ever exercised regularly before, they all reported feeling better physically and mentally after the trial.
“These people are not from an exercise generation and technology has replaced much of the incidental exercise they once did,” Dr Sales said.
Other barriers that prevented them from previous exercise, especially for women, were their long-held perception that exercise was for men, and their lack of time or access to spaces where they felt comfortable to exercise.
“Some seniors of this generation may play lawn bowls or do physical incidental activities, but that is not the same as systematic, structured exercise that works on their strength, balance, mobility, flexibility, and co-ordination,” Dr Sales said.
Participants reported that they enjoyed the opportunity to socialise in the outdoors, while exercise physiologists (including students in training) were on hand to ensure they performed exercises correctly.
Dr Sales has wants local councils and philanthropic organisations to help build other exercise parks dedicated to seniors.
The study, A Novel Exercise Initiative for Seniors to Improve Balance and Physical Function, has been published in the Journal of Aging and Health.