The recent Canadian City Parks Report tracked leading practices in parks in 23 Canadian cities. It found designing parks for all ages and abilities are key in helping older adults maintain their health and wellness. Age-friendly parks include amenities and programming for people as they age and encourage physical activity.
In Edmonton, Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital added therapeutic outdoor fitness equipment for their patients and community members. The fitness equipment includes special features to provide additional support for recovering patients and older adults.
Making sure older adults use park amenities is a priority. A recent study of US neighbourhood parks shows seniors made up 20% of residents, but only made up 4% of park users. As our own population ages, we must look for ways to increase park usage.
Here are some of the findings from the Canadian City Parks Report to encourage older adults to participate in outdoor fitness.
Make it a Social Experience
Creating safe and fun spaces to take part in physical fitness is important to Canadian communities. Making it a fun and inclusive social environment is also a key part of creating places for people as they age.
This social element is especially important as more and more people live alone, including seniors, leading to concerns about a loneliness epidemic in Canada and the increasing health risks that come from social isolation.
Recent UBC research published in the Journal of Health Psychology indicates that for seniors, exercising with people their own age increases the likelihood of regular exercise and fosters a sense of belonging.
But we can also create opportunities for social connection between people of different ages.
For example, Calgary situated one of its pop-up fitness gyms next to a playground, making it convenient for people to access and allowing parents and grandparents to enjoy their workout while their kids play.
And in Toronto the city has a program that trains older adults to create and lead walking clubs through parks in their own neighbourhood. This provides people a safe, welcoming space for physical activity and exploration of parks and trails, and it has also helped create new friendships and a greater sense of belonging.
Reduce Barriers to Learning
Putting outdoor fitness equipment in a park is a good start, but it's important to make sure people know how to use it. GameTime fitness equipment includes labels and signs with usage instructions. And there is a QR code people can scan with their phone to watch demonstration videos.
Some cities, like Prince George, are helping people overcome this by creating supportive social environments through a “try-it” fitness program. This program encourages people to try different recreational activities in a judgement-free setting, like tai chi, learning to run, and using outdoor fitness equipment.
And in Saskatoon, the River Landing Outdoor Fitness Circuit, which has great views of the South Saskatchewan River, includes wheelchair-accessible GameTime equipment and instructional plaques to encourage everyone to participate, no matter their ability or comfort level.
Keep it Simple
Research from the RAND Corporation’s neighbourhood parks study found that a huge predictor of how active people were in a park was whether there was a walking loop or not. The study found that parks with walking loops had 80% more park users and that people observed engaging in at least moderate exercise was 90% higher than in parks without walking loops.
This aligns with what we found in the Canadian City Parks Report, where cities across the country reported that walking trails were one of the amenities frequently asked for by residents in parks.
Create Fitness Opportunities for Everyone
If you are interested in bringing outdoor fitness equipment to your parks and recreation spaces, contact the GameTime fitness expert in your area. We will help you select the right products, discuss research and programming, and support your efforts to create age-friendly places in your community.