‘Playgrounds’ for Older People

Image of Two Women at a Berlin Fitness ParkIn response to the perceived needs of an aging population, German municipalities have been experimenting with outdoor parks for their citizens. This past March, a new ‘playground’ for older people opened in Berlin’s Preussenpark. Designed and built by a company called Playfit, it’s modeled on exercise areas created in China to keep older members of the population in good health.

In China the emphasis is more on flexibility; in Europe and the USA, the focus tends to be more on strength-building. The Berlin park, and similar ones in Nuremberg, are adapted to focus more on the Western model, using isometric exercise to strengthen muscles and increase stamina and balance. Berlin’s Preussenpark has eight devices, some of them like conventional gym exercisers and others specially adapted, including one with a nubby surface to stimulate the back.

The need appears to be real; some older people have resorted to using children’s playgrounds for exercise — providing no juveniles are nearby. “I use loving gladly the swings and jacks on children’s playgrounds, if . . . no children are present,” wrote Berlin resident Barbara Becker, in a letter to the Berlin Morning Post. (Google translation from the original German, but you get the point.)

The new parks have proven to be popular. Britain’s Mirror has taken note:

Today the playground is full of OAPs [Old Age Pensioners], many of whom have left their walking sticks nearby as they move from one stainless steel and plastic machine to the next in the warm morning sun.

Werner Herrick, 68, has been here every day since the park opened on May 2.

“This place helps me forget I’m getting on a bit, and helps keep me active,” he says. “It’s the highlight of my day. A lot of us old folks come here at the same time every day, so I’ve already made quite a few friends.”

Marlit and Hans Kimert are enjoying a relaxing back massage. Marlit, a whippersnapper at 59, says: “People think that all pensioners need is a cup of tea and a high-backed chair, but we like to be active too.

“It takes a while to get the hang of the equipment but once you know how to use it, you really feel the difference it makes.”

Image of a Man Using an Arm Exercise Machine in a ParkInterestingly, there are no benches in the Berlin park, bowing to concerns expressed in Berlin that adolescents and children might attract drug dealers who would sit around and harass the elderly exercisers. In Nuremberg, pre-park discussions involved consideration of a ban for anyone under age 60 — the result of expressed concerns about the dangers of active children and ancillary problems like the ones addressed in Berlin.

Image of a Sign at the Entrance to a Senior’s PlaygroundIn Berlin, no one under 5 feet tall may use the ‘senior’ playground unless accompanied by a (taller) adult. This sign (left), possibly from a Nuremberg park, limits users to people 65 years old and older. The concerns regarding youngsters do not appear to be misplaced; according to the Mirror article, self-absorbed schoolchildren can be an issue when there aren’t attendants around.

In addition to equipment similar to that used in the Preussenpark, the Nuremberg parks feature shade trees and convenient restrooms, along with a bocce ball field and a giant chess set meant to provide both mental and physical stimulation.

The ‘playground’ concept met with some resistance in Nuremberg; at least one group objected to the phrase “seniorenspielplatz” (“seniors playground”) claiming that name was infantile and demeaning. Nonetheless, the designation appears to have stuck — it’s the quickest way to get the most information using an Internet search, for example (if you are fluent in German, that is).

Note: The Mirror article appears to be a little confused about the opening date for the park — it cites two, neither of which appear to be exactly correct (though the phrase “last month” is open to some interpretation).

More (or at least other) information from The Times Online, UK

And from Berlin Online (in German)

Photograph of Werner Herrick from the Mirror

Photograph of park sign from Flickr

3 replies on “‘Playgrounds’ for Older People”

I personally think that helping the elderly and disabled to gain exercise is a wonderful idea. However, treating the elderly like children isn’t, I feel that this could have been done in a different way. i.e., not the same as a child’s play area. the other thing I don’t think they have thought of is that the park is restricted to adults over 70 and over 5ft. due to these restrictions it appears that both of my grandmas would be ruled out since one is under 70 (65) and my other grandma although she is over 70 she is under 5ft as she is a primordial dwarf. In addition to this I feel that is my grandma who is under 70 that is the one that needs to be more active and would benefit from it more.

In my opinion the park should only be restricted to elderly, without a height or age limit restriction

What do you think

Melissa, thank you for your thoughts. Oddly, when I saw the notification of your comment in my mailbox, I was thinking about the whole idea of child-like recreation for older people. I recognize that, for many people, such activities and designs are a joyful way to re-live (or remember) a joyous time in life, or to feel a sense of imagined child-like freedom.

But I agree with you that not all older people feel this way, and calling these areas “playgrounds” is perhaps not the best choice. As you read above, there are many people who agree with you, and dislike the infantilization the name implies.

As far as age restriction goes, I appreciate that some age cut-off is necessary, and I suppose that making it 70 was meant to exclude those truly athletic (and perhaps intimidating) 60-somethings. I’d like to think that this restriction isn’t very rigidly enforced, though.

I agree with your comment regarding the size restriction, too. I suspect the restriction exists because the equipment is designed for the majority population, and, for safety reasons, not recommended for use by people larger or smaller than the accomodated sizes. It’s likely that the expense of making size-specific equipment was considered too much — that’s how these things usually go. But yes, I do agree with you, and think a truly inclusive plan would be better.

I personally think it’s an excellent idea. However, it shouldn’t be liminted to people over 70. All adults should be welcome.

I’m a nurse in the United States. The obesity rates are sky rocketing here. Adult playgrounds would be a fun way. There is a difference between advising your patients to “You need to get more exercise.” vs “Go out and play!”

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