Victoria University researchers are studying the benefits of exercise parks designed to improve the strength, flexibility and balance of older adults.
Stimulating, functional activities, lots of fun and socialising with friends in the great outdoors are just some of the benefits of specifically designed exercise parks, says associate professor Pazit Levinger and PhD researcher and exercise physiologist Myrla Sales.
"We found that people in the 18-week exercise group experienced significant improvement in strength, balance and function," says Ms Sales.
"We also concluded that using the park helps reduce the physiological risk of falling,” she says.
Around 35 per cent of people over the age of 65 fall at least once a year. The effects can be devastating and often result in loss of independence and autonomy, decreased social contact, depression and anxiety.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates that the annual cost of hospital care related to falls is around $648.2 million.
Exercise parks for older adults are quite usual in the northern hemisphere and the results of the first stage of Associate Professor Levinger’s research team indicate they would be beneficial here.
The VU research used equipment manufactured by Finnish company Lappset and the park was installed at Villa Maria Catholic Homes’ St Bernadette aged care home in Sunshine North.
"The parks also offer the well-documented benefits of being out in the fresh air, of being social and doing something you enjoy," says Ms Sales.
People exercise in pairs with techniques designed to keep them active, enjoying their lives, and coping easily with daily demands such as chores, shopping and gardening.
Several pieces of equipment address each aspect of fitness. For example, participants working on their balance can use a balance stool, a suspended gangway, a balance beam or a ramp and net.
"Our findings indicate that there is a case for a larger study and we are now looking for partners for the design of the next trial.
We would like to get councils, community organisations and aged care bodies involved and organise more sites," says Associate Professor Levinger.
Watch the Youtube video of the park in use.