Not just for kids: New playgrounds get adults and seniors playing too

Following a trend in Europe and Asia, intergenerational playgrounds are popping up all over the United States.

Brian Lawdermilk/AP/Humana
In this photo taken by AP Images for Humana, Humana volunteers are seen at the Cleary Playground on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011, in the Greater New Orleans region. With more than 200 local volunteers of all ages, Humana and KaBOOM! construct play equipment and fitness stations in less than six hours for kids, adults and seniors.

Around the world, thousands of adults are rediscovering the playground.

Finnish company Lappset created the concept for an outdoor exercise park, and have sold tens of thousands of the parks in Europe and Asia, according to PRI. Lappset has found a particularly enthusiastic customer in Spain, which already has more than 600 of these parks, and orders in for hundreds more for its aging population.

The United States is starting to catch on.

Rather than gear playgrounds just for children or the elderly, the United States is taking a multigenerational approach, ensuring kids of all ages can use the equipment, which tests balance, promotes flexibility, and often includes some cognitive challenges. The parks usually have low-impact exercise equipment, such as elliptical machines, static bikes, and body flexors.

The largest project of this kind in the states is a partnership between KaBOOM!, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to get children playing, and the foundation arm of healthcare firm Humana. According to Sarah Pinsky, Director of Client Services at KaBOOM!, the initiative has built 53 multigenerational playgrounds across America, so far serving about 135,470 kids and 61,500 seniors, Huffington Post reports.

"Play is a great connector for adults and seniors and the children in their lives. In addition to the cognitive and physical benefits of play, it can also reduce stress in adults and is proven to help combat toxic stress in kids," Ms. Pinsky told The Huffington Post.

She described a fitness club being formed by seniors at one of their projects in Cleveland, using the adult fitness equipment that was installed in 2012. Pinsky said that Ragan Park in Tampa, Fla., had outdated playground equipment for children and nothing more than a walking path for adults in the community, and that both were seldom used. Since KaBoom! completed an intergenerational park project there, Pinsky says that use of the space has spiked, with heavy attendance by a range of children, adults, and seniors.

At the Midway Safe Harbor Center community learning center outside of Orlando, Fla., the playground and adult fitness equipment have brought children, adults and seniors together there as well. According to Midway Safe Harbor Center director Brenda Knight, in Orlando, it is common for grandparents in the community the center serves to be caregivers while parents are working.

Before the playground and fitness stations were installed, they lacked a common activity space, Ms. Knight told The Huffington Post. She also noted that middle and high school students, who would not typically frequent a playground, are using the adult fitness equipment.

Retiree Manuel Francisco Martin uses a playground designed for seniors in Spain. “The point is to be able to keep going,” he said in a segment for PRI. “To never stop. Because once you stop moving, things go badly.”

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