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Seniors take fitness to the playground

Christopher Werth May 14, 2010

Seniors take fitness to the playground

Christopher Werth May 14, 2010


Steve Chiotakis: In just 20 years, the number of Americans 65 and older is expected to just about double. And the same is true for folks over in Europe. But as we age, we also want to keep fit. Christopher Werth looks at how some seniors are staying in shape over in London.

Christopher Werth: When I catch up with Maddie Elsdon, she’s just wrapping up her daily workout.

Maddie Elsdon: This is to tighten up the waist, get rid of all the flab.

Every morning, she takes a long walk in London’s Hyde Park, and then heads to a new playground built specifically for senior citizens. It’s right next to the regular playground for kids, but instead of monkey bars, it has things like an elliptical machine and a stationary bike designed for people 65 and over.

Elsdon: Parks always have children’s playgrounds, but there are very few facilities for older people.

So Elsdon convinced her local council government to invest about seventy thousand dollars on the new “senior playground,” which have begun popping up in many parts of Europe, and even as far away as China. Bob Laventure is with the British Heart Foundation. He says this is part of a growing trend of aging Baby Boomers who are hitting the gym after retirement.

Bob Laventure: There is clearly a growing market for older people who want to look after themselves. And the fitness industry, certainly they’re beginning to tap in big time into what they call the “mature mover market.”

In the U.S., that “Mature Mover Market” makes up nearly 30 percent of those who head to the gym on a regular basis. But Elsdon says the fitness industry does face one hurdle:

Elsdon: Older people find gyms really intimidating. It’s all this firm flesh, and everybody’s too young. And the equipment, you have to adjust everything and set all different settings. This is very simple. You just come in, use the equipment, and carry on.

And she says playgrounds for seniors help retirees on fixed incomes who can’t afford gym memberships. But be warned: Elsdon says no kids allowed here. As we talk, a 6-year-old wanders in and climbs onto one of the machines.

Elsdon: I’m gonna throw him off. Excuse me young man, can you read? …was that mean?

Maybe, But she says older people won’t use the equipment if they see children playing on it. And she hopes senior playgrounds like this become as common as jungle gyms are for the little ones.

In London, I’m Christopher Werth for Marketplace.

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