EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 10, 2013

Exercise park for elders would make city'trendsetter'

City officials study parks popular in Europe and Asia

By Mike LaBella
mlabella@eagletribune.com

---- — HAVERHILL — If the city created a play area where senior citizens could get some exercise on outdoor equipment designed especially for them, would they use it?

City officials said the idea sounds intriguing. They are considering a proposal by City Councilor William Macek for buying specialized playground equipment designed for senior citizens who want to improve their health, fitness, dexterity and balance — and maybe make some new friends.

The city has playgrounds for children, and Macek said it’s time to create one for adults.

Macek said the idea for adult outdoor wellness areas began in Asia, moved to Europe and is now beginning to see growth in the United States. He said the exercise equipment he has researched is designed to extend people’s range of motion, improve balance, build strength and promote cardiovascular health.

Mary Murphy, 77, was exercising recently in the basement fitness room of the Citizens Center. Murphy said she’s been exercising all her life and enjoys using the room’s exercise bikes and stair stepper.

“I imagine it would be nice to use on a beautiful day,” she said about a park built for senior citizens.

Sam Yanku, 88, is a regular at the fitness room and said he likes Macek’s idea, but “only if people would use it.”

“If it’s just going to sit there, then why bother?” he said about the equipment Macek suggested. “And who is going to pay for it?”

More than dozen women were getting a good workout during a recent Zumba class at the Citizens Center. Their concerns for Macek’s plan included worries that senior citizens might fall ill when trying to exercise outdoors on a hot day.

“I don’t believe I’d use it, but it does sound like a great concept,” said Lynda Parisi, 68, of Haverhill.

Macek said this kind of project could become a “model” project for other communities to follow, and that he would want the city to seek grant money to pay for the equipment.

“We’d be a trendsetter,” Macek said. “I’m not looking to commit our own tax dollars towards this. I think we’d look to find resources elsewhere.”

Macek’s presentation highlighted various types of outdoor wellness areas designed by Must Have Play, a company that creates outdoor areas where senior citizens can exercise and socialize.

He said the equipment could be incorporated into an existing park because it doesn’t take up a lot of space.

“It could be fit into one of our current parks,” he said.

He said the equipment can be used by people with disabilities, is built to withstand the weather and requires little maintenance.

During a presentation to the council, Macek showed images of various types of equipment such as Tai Chi wheels, which are pole mounted discs intended to extend the range of motion of arms and shoulders and encourage face-to-face interaction; a two-person cross country skiing machine; and side-by-side seating leg spinners.

“They also recommended adult swings,” he said. “We all have a little kid left in us, so we’d all enjoy doing that.”

City Recreation Director Vincent Ouellette told the council that outdoor recreation programs for senior citizens would be a nice addition to what the Council on Aging offers at the Citizens Center.

He said that by installing this kind of equipment in an area such as GAR Park, it could be incorporated into the fitness programs already offered at the Citizens Center, which is next to the park.

Councilors expressed enthusiasm for the idea of an adult outdoor fitness area and voted to send it to the Natural Resources and Public Property Committee to come up with a plan and report back at a later date. Macek is chairman of that committee.