Age-friendly Cities and Communities – thinking about our ageing population

The inclusion of older people in community activities to better meet their needs has been acknowledged by the World Health Global Network.

The inclusion of older people in community activities to better meet their needs has been acknowledged by the World Health Global Network for Age-friendly Cities and Communities which was established to foster the exchange of experience and mutual learning between cities and communities worldwide.

Indeed, a key strategy to facilitate the inclusion of older persons is to make our world more age-friendly. This means to enable people of all ages to actively participate in community activities and to be considered in any design of ‘active’ public/urban spaces. In this context, the inclusion of a senior space such as senior outdoor exercise equipment (or ‘exercise park’) is important.

With the increase in our ageing population there will be a growth in health problems affecting the health and wellbeing of older people. Diseases due to inactivity (such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes) and associated health problems (psychological distress, reduced quality of life) can present a major burden to the health care system. Physical activity is strongly recommended to older people to reduce these health problems. Lack of physical activity and sedentary behaviour, common in older people [1], links to all-cause mortality [2]. Therefore, engagement in some form of physical activity is crucial for the prevention of chronic diseases, reduction of cognitive and functional decline and improvement in mental health [3].

Outdoor exercise has been shown to improve mood and self-esteem in older people where natural environments may have direct and positive impacts on well-being.

Outdoor exercise has been shown to improve mood and self-esteem in older people [4] where natural environments may have direct and positive impacts on well-being [5]. Moreover, exercise within green spaces was suggested as a useful natural medicine to address health challenges facing the modern world [6]. Consequently, exercise outdoor may increase enjoyment and provide social togetherness and support and thus can lead to positive behaviour changes and sustained physical activity participation. 

Recent study conducted in Melbourne Australia was the first outdoor exercise park intervention trial in the community, using the innovative seniors-only outdoor exercise park [7]. Results from this trial have shown significant improvement in lower limb muscle strength, function and balance following 18 weeks of the exercise park program for older people [8] (see video). High adherence rates (80%) were evident in this innovative physical activity program, which was related to the participants’ enjoyment of exercising outdoors with fun and enjoyable exercises and associated social interaction. This study provides further support to the need to consider the inclusion of outdoor senior equipment in public spaces or urban parks. Careful consideration needs to be taken by local/public authorities to provide access for all as well as activities to suit all ages. This will not only elicit health benefits, but may also provide social opportunities and interaction as well as connectivity to nature. 

References:


1. Harvey, J.A., S.F. Chastin ja D.A. Skelton, Prevalence of sedentary behavior in older adults: a systematic review. Int J Environ Res Public Health, 2013. 10(12): s. 6645-61.

2. de Rezende, L.F.M., et al., Sedentary behaviour and health outcomes among older adults: a systematic review. BMC Public Health, 2014. 14(333).

3. Blondell, S.J., R. Hammersley-Mather ja J.L. Veerman, Does physical activity prevent cognitive decline and dementia?: A systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. BMC Public Health, 2014. 14: s. 510.

4. Thompson Coon, J., et al., Does participating in physical activity in outdoor natural environments have a greater effect on physical and mental wellbeing than physical activity indoors? A systematic review. Environ Sci Technol, 2011. 45(5): s. 1761-72.

5. Bowler, D.E., et al., A systematic review of evidence for the added benefits to health of exposure to natural environments. BMC Public Health, 2010. 10: s.456.

6. Logan, A.C. ja E.M. Selhub, Vis Medicatrix naturae: does nature "minister to the mind"? Biopsychosoc Med, 2012. 6(1): s. 11.

7. Sales, M.P., et al., A novel dynamic exercise initiative for older people to improve health and well-being: study protocol for a randomised controlled trial. BMC Geriatrics, 2015. 15: s. 68.

8. Sales, M., et al., A Novel Exercise Initiative for Seniors to Improve Balance and Physical Function. Journal of Aging and Health, 2016. DOI: 10.1177/0898264316662359

Pazit Levinger
Pazit Levinger
Associate Professor, College of Sport and Exercise Science
Institute of Sport, Exercise & Active Living (ISEAL), Victoria University. Melbourne, Australia
pazit.levinger@vu.edu.au
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