Over the last few years, outdoor sports and activities have exploded in popularity across all age groups, with governments and their populations becoming increasingly aware of the benefits an active lifestyle has. Bike sales have gone through the roof during the Covid 19 outbreak, with the government lately advising people to utilise the “wonder drug” of exercise. Our roads are seeing increasing amounts of runners and cyclists, both professionals and leisure riders, and the amount of people commuting to work on a bike is steadily increasing.
Despite all this, one demographic who are not being catered for in terms of their fitness needs are the elderly. Arguably, it is this age group that can benefit the most from regular exercise. Evidence from the NHS suggests that the risk of suffering from heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes and depression reduces significantly with regular bouts of exercise.
As well as the physical benefits discussed, the mental benefits of exercise in the elderly are also vital for one’s general health. As the saying goes, “a healthy body is a healthy mind”, and partaking in light exercise multiple times a week is a great way to achieve this, as well as adding a meaningful purpose to our lives.
For an example of how senior fitness can be incorporated successfully, we should look to the Scandinavian countries. The thinking in countries such as Finland is that a day out at the park should be for all ages. As a result, it is common to see junior playground equipment, outdoor fitness kit aimed at adults, and an area specially designed for elderly users, all located within metres of each other. The social aspect of this approach encourages group meet ups, and interactions between all ages. With such attitudes, it is perhaps not surprising that Scandinavian countries regularly score highest for their life satisfaction and happiness levels.
Types of Senior fitness equipment
There a four types of fitness equipment for seniors that provide different benefits:
- Weight resistance
- Cognitive and motoric
Senior fitness often falls into four distinct categories, listed above. It is important to include elements from each group into the design of an area, to ensure users can achieve a balanced overall workout. By incorporating activities from each in a session, the benefits touched on at the beginning of the article can be achieved. It is important to locate the equipment on a solid base – as a lot of it is accessible to wheelchair users, bark or other loose fill surfaces are not always appropriate. Ensuring the equipment is positioned at the entrance to parks, and near a pathway, can also help increase participation.
Cardio workouts are a great way to increase general fitness and well being. The heart is a muscle, and like all muscles it increases in strength with regular use. Although elderly people may not be running marathons and cycling in the French Alpes, regular cardio sessions at lower intensities still provide fantastic benefits. Exercise stations such as a seated cycle station with pedals are perfect for senior users, providing an impact free way to exercise, protecting their joints and bones.
Although there are cases of body builders and athletes achieving extraordinary feats well into their 70’s, squatting, deadlifting and bench pressing aren’t appropriate exercises for the majority of people in that age group. However, its still vitally important to work on core strength, and there are numerous pieces of equipment that can help assist with this. One such example is leg press, where the user sits with a straight back and puts their legs on the nearby pedals, gently raising and lowering them for a suitable number of reps. Likewise, the back press works in a similar fashion, focussing on strengthening muscles that can assist with keeping a good posture.
Balancing becomes a vital attribute to have as we get older, with a good sense of balance helping to prevent falls that can have such a devastating impact on the elderly, and those around them. Simple balance beams with accompanying hand rails on either side can drastically improve our co ordination, and for those looking for a greater challenge, the balancing beam can be placed on a spring to gently rock from side to side, further strengthening the core muscles and stamina.
Bridges, walkways and specifically designed tracks, often likened to an obstacle course for seniors, help put an element of fun into these exercise sessions. As we all know, we are much more likely to engage regularly in something if we enjoy the activity.
Cognitive and Motoric
Cognitive and motoric skills do naturally reduce with the passing of time, but regular exercising of these functions can dramatically help keeping us more stable and aware of our surroundings. Exercises such as the finger ladder keep the signals from our brain to the tip of our hands activated.
At a slightly more challenging level, metal bars, either straight or curved, are used to glide various shapes over without touching the bar itself. Its like a life sized game of the childhood favourite game Operation, just on a bigger scale.
Indeed one thing we have noticed where senior fitness parks have been installed is how the intended user demographic are regularly joined by their grand children, providing the great social benefits that inter-generational interaction exudes.
Supporting Functional Fitness for Life
Its vitally important that society works for, and is inclusive of all members, regardless of age. A fit and healthy elderly population benefits the NHS, by preventing falls and reducing the risk of diseases mentioned earlier in the article. It allows for fun visits to the park for all of the family, and breaks down generational divisions. Most importantly though, it can be great fun for those partaking in senior fitness activities, and gives a good reason to get out in the fresh air.
With people on average living much longer than in the past, keeping people over 70 years old active, healthy and most importantly engaged with society has never been more important. Lappset provide the industry leading range of outdoor senior fitness equipment, with stylish Scandinavian designs paired with excellent built quality.
Video of fitness park for senior citizens