If you visit China’s local parks, chances are you’ll see various colorful exercise equipment. These machines look more like playgrounds for younger kids, but are actually outdoor gyms.
Millions of elderly Chinese flock to them on a daily basis to get their hearts pumping and their blood flowing.
Designed with the elderly in mind, the Chinese government has built outdoor gyms over 20,000,000 square meters of parks across China. Their plan to keep the aging population moving has been extremely successful.
In a survey of locals across eight parks in Nanchang, China, fifty percent of the gym users were older adults. Such high park attendance is impressive on a global level. In the US, for example, no studies have found over 15% of elderly users at public parks.
So, what attracts older Chinese to these unique outdoor parks? In Chinese culture, traditions of exercising in the morning can be traced back to the 3rd Century BC.
Considered to be a pillar of traditional Chinese medicine, the ancient text Huangdi Neijing promotes waking up early and getting your body moving . The Chinese believe that as the sun rises in the morning, your body’s qi (life force) is at its strongest.
The parks are also easily accessible to the older population because they are specifically designed for their age range. In other countries, older adults often feel unwelcome at parks because they are designed for younger adults.
This keeps them from going outside and exercising. In China however, instead of basketball hoops and soccer fields there are Tai Chi gatherings and walking trails made for the elderly.
In a time when extended families are dissolving in China, older Chinese folks increasingly live by themselves. This raises their risk of loneliness and depression.
Daily morning public exercise groups are a great way for older Chinese folks to connect with each other, catch up, and form friendships.
While American exercise tends to focus on breaking a sweat in intense, anaerobic activities, Chinese exercise focuses on loosening, relaxing, and stretching the body.
With that in mind, these exercise equipment at senior playgrounds can help Chinese elders manage physical problems of old age, such as balance, dexterity, and flexibility.
Popular pieces of equipment among the elderly include the elliptical and stretching bars. All equipment is completely mechanical and user-friendly to elders who have never used electrical gym machines.
The rest of the world is slowly catching on to China’s care for the elderly. Senior playgrounds are popping up in Western countries like Canada, the US, England, and Spain.
These playgrounds are often built with Chinese designs as inspiration. Hopefully, senior playgrounds will become standard across the world.