Project to Create Age-Friendly Outdoor Spaces Wins Research Award

Project to create age-friendly outdoor spaces using seniors exercise solutions by Lark Industries wins 2021 PLA VIC/TAS Research Award

Each year, Parks and Leisure Australia acknowledges the outstanding initiatives and innovative efforts of people in our industry that promote good use of leisure time for a number of social, environmental and economic benefits to the community with their prestigious Awards of Excellence.

The National Ageing Research Institute’s pioneering ENJOY project was awarded the 2021 Research Award for Victoria and Tasmania, thanks to its potential to positively impact the lives of older people through change in the built environment with its inclusion of specialised seniors equipment.

The ENJOY project was designed to fulfil the need for older people to be physically active in the community, using a variety of age-friendly outdoor spaces. Lark Industries was responsible for supplying the purpose built equipment, from their partner Lappset Group, in the Seniors Exercise Parks and providing associated advice and support throughout the process and after.

Lappset’s outdoor seniors exercise equipment is specifically designed to improve the strength, balance, joint movements and overall mobility and function of older people. The unstable surfaces in the Seniors Exercise Parks challenge the balance, coordination and core strength of users and the multiple equipment stations that target specific function or movement have already facilitated supervised exercise intervention programs in a successful community trial.

The advantages of senior residents getting outdoors and being active are immeasurable. Not only does specialised seniors exercise equipment help build physical strength, but it also ensures lasting mental and social benefits and the ability of older people to be independent for longer.

A team of researchers led by NARI’s Professor Pazit Levinger collaborated to design the ENJOY project, including experts in exercise intervention, falls prevention, public health, mental health, geriatrics and ageing.

“Creating inclusive and accessible outdoor environments that encourage and provide opportunities for older adults to engage in physical activity and social interaction is important for healthy ageing,” Professor Levinger said.

Outdoor exercise has been shown to improve mood and self-esteem in older people and can also reduce feelings of loneliness and social isolation. However, most outdoor spaces are designed for children or younger adults, with limited suitable outdoor exercise equipment and space for older people.”

“Only 25 per cent of older people in Australia currently meet the recommended physical activity guidelines, so we need to rethink how parks can best be designed so they offer place for older people as well.”

Professor Levinger said participants in the ENJOY Seniors Exercise Park physical activity program showed significant improvements in physical strength and functional mobility, which were sustained long term.

“Importantly, their physical activity level also increased from sedentary to being sufficiently active to gain health benefits. They also rated quality of life, wellbeing, fear of falls, falls risk, depressive symptoms and loneliness as significantly improved.”

“We’re very proud of this project’s research outcomes, which have contributed to building a body of evidence on the positive impact of purpose-built Seniors Exercise Parks to promote healthy ageing. Creating opportunities for older people to engage in outdoor physical activity is important and requires real commitment from the community and local governments,” Professor Levinger said.

The ENJOY (Exercise interveNtion outdoor proJect in the cOmmunitY) project has led to the creation of four age-friendly sites in Victoria, including one at Leith Park Retirement Living Community by Old Colonists’ Association of Victoria, two locations in Western Australia, and two outdoor spaces in not-for-profit senior organisations in Victoria and in Western Australia.

The ENJOY project was undertaken by NARI in partnership with Wyndham and Whittlesea City Councils and the Old Colonists’ Association of Victoria, and supported by Gandel Philanthropy.

“We are incredibly grateful to Gandel Philanthropy for its generous support to promote public health, and to address the need for more age-friendly active outdoor spaces that provide opportunities for older people to engage in safe physical and social activities.”

Ivanhoe Park – a collaboration between NARI, Banyule City Council, State Trustees Foundation of Australia, and Lark Industries – which is part of the ENJOY MAP for HEALTH project currently underway, also received a High Commendation in the Park and Leisure Awards for Excellence Playspace Award (<$0.5M) category.

“Our research shows that when you create accessible outdoor environments that encourage and provide opportunities for older people to engage in physical activity and social interaction, they will participate – and this is critical for healthy ageing,” Professor Levinger said.

With more local councils on board to commission accessible parks, such as the Thomas Street Reserve Playspace by Bayside Council, Barry Road Reserve by Whittlesea Council, Mount Pleasant Reserve by City of Ballarat, and Central Park by Wyndham City Council, Lark Industries is perfectly placed to help enhance the design and installation of active outdoor spaces for future generations of seniors.