Saturday, 10 March 2012

China and Old Swingers: The Outdoor Gym and Playparks for Pensioners

When I mentioned my discovery of an outdoor gym in Westerhailes to a friend who lived  in China for a few years she warned me that an invasion had begun. Outdoor gyms are all the rage in China. Since 1998 the Chinese government has installed over 37 million square metres of outdoor gym space across China. They have been widely hailed as a success in improving the fitness of local people, and are especially popular with the over 60s. Whilst they are designed for exercise they strongly resemble playparks with bright, garish colours.

This video shows some women "playing" on an outdoor gym in China.

People Exercising
Gulin in China, 2005.
Let's get physical
Beijing in China, 2006. This looks like it has just been plonked on the pavement.

In 2007 a 'Pensioners Playground' was opened in Berlin, Germany, and was inspired by the omnipresent gyms in China. In 2008 the UK's first 'Play Area for Pensioners' was opened on the Dam Head Estate in Blackley, Manchester. It was set up by the local housing association. A video of the pensioners playing is available here.

It would be going too far to say that outdoor gyms are as widespread in the UK as in , but there clearly has been further enthusiasm for the idea in some parts of the country. The first in Scotland opened in Cromarty, Black Isle in 2008.

 In 2009 a group of pensioners from Torry in Aberdeen had raised £28000 to build their own playpark. In 2010 a pensioners' playground designed to provide gentle exercise for pensioners opened up in Hyde Park, London. There are many other examples, usually funded by local groups and local councils.

What about us non-pensioners? We blog contributors (so far, anyway) are still a few decades away from free bus passes. It is clearly not only pensioners that are leading the way in demand for outdoor gyms. The gym in Hailes Quarry Park is aimed at locals, and passers-by on the Canal rather than any particular age group. The Great Outdoor Gym Company who supplied the equipment report that in 2011 they installed their 250th outdoor gym. Their equipment is clearly aimed at all age groups, although I note they do not mention the words "play" or "playground" in their advertising.

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