The playground habits of little children are now being pushed as a concept to help the elderly. Children playing in the park, on swings and slides, are a common sight but the idea is increasingly being pushed as a solution to support the health of our elders.
It was noticed by Professor of Public Health at Texas A&M University Jay Maddock on a trip to China. He noticed hundreds of elderly people exercising together. In China, large groups of pensioners often gather in parks to go through exercise routines including dancing or even light gymnastics. The equipment they use however is aimed at light cardio workouts and gentle strength training rather than what is found at typical playgrounds. Professor of Anthropology at Oxford University Elisabeth Hsu says that the collective exercise habit was promoted by the government in the 1950s when today’s elders were growing up.
Intrigued by the idea, Professor Maddock gathered data on users of playgrounds in China and compared them against those in the USA. He found that in China more than 50% of users were older adults but that was much lower in the US at no more than 15%.
This innovative solution comes at an opportune time because many countries around the world have ageing demographics including Australia. By 2040, it is predicted that as much as 6.8 million or 20% of Australia’s population will be over 65. Having such a large elderly population brings with it a number of health concerns and healthcare costs for governments at national and local levels. Luckily, trials are already being taken up around the world and in Australia. One trial in Sunshine North in Victoria has found that playgrounds geared towards older people helps with other daily activities such as shopping, gardening or catching the tram.
With social and health benefits, this initiative can be a key way to prevent ill health and reduce health costs for our loved ones, and the community alike.