Many thanks to Dr Melissa Stoneham and the Public Health Advocacy Institute of Western Australia for this latest instalment of Journal Watch.

Dr Stoneham writes:

My mum is a healthy 82 year old. She has eaten well all her life, had regular check-ups with her medical practitioners and although she wasn’t regularly active, rearing seven kids certainly kept her moving. So at 82, should I be asking my mum to join in some regular physical activity program, or should I just let her grow old gracefully?  With more than half of Australian adults insufficiently active for good health, and with the proportion increasing with age, maybe I should have this conversation with mum.

According to the Australian Health Survey (2011-12) results, levels of physical activity tended to decline in older ages, with the lowest being among people aged 75 years and over. The survey found that the average time spent doing physical activity for the over 75s, was 20 minutes per day, making only one in four sufficiently active. It is well documented that regular physical activity is associated with prevention of chronic diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and diabetes, and with social and mental health benefits. But the barriers for older Australians to be active seem to be almost insurmountable – according to a recent study these barriers included safety concerns such as the risk of injury and perceived safety of area, not having enough information, a range of social factors such as having friends to be active with, a lack of variety, the cost, difficulties with accessibility, aesthetics and maintenance issues. So taking this all into account, how do we encourage our older people to be more active?

Would the promotion of outdoor gyms help older people to be more active? With outdoor gyms popping up in many local green spaces in throughout Australian suburbs, they certainly make access easy. These gyms provide people of all ages with opportunities to take part in physical activity in attractive environments, which is associated with positive outcomes for physical and mental health. But I have to ask myself, can I imagine my mum using an outdoor gym?

A study led by Ashleigh Scott from the Health Promotion Service in South Eastern Sydney Local Health District investigated whether a custom built $60 000 outdoor gym would promote physical activity amongst older people in Maroubra Beach, Sydney. The Randwick City Council installed the outdoor gym and launched it during Seniors Week with a come and try day. Eight exercise sessions were hosted over a four week period during late 2013 on weekday mornings. The sessions were facilitated by an accredited exercise professional and included demonstrations of warm-up and cool-down methods, safe and effective use of the equipment and how to modify the intensity of exercises. Sessions aimed to engage older adults in using the outdoor gym and increase their knowledge and confidence in using the equipment. Although the sessions were targeted towards people aged over 50 years, all adults were welcome.

The older people were invited to come along to the outdoor gym sessions through a range of targeted promotions including local newspaper articles, websites, flyers and posters distributed to local businesses, libraries and community centres as well as advertising on prominent seniors’ websites. A How to Use an Outdoor Gym Guide was also developed to overcome the barrier of having a lack of information.

Over the four week period, around 120 people attended the sessions and 55% completed a survey asking for demographics, previous physical activity levels, confidence levels and intention to continue use of the outdoor gym. The proportion of participants aged over 50 years was 85% and almost 70% of participants were female. For those who completed the survey, providing professionally-instructed exercise sessions at an outdoor gym designed for older adults, was one of the success factors for engaging with the outdoor gym. The authors suggest that another success factor was co-locating the outdoor gym with a playground, amenities and walkway as this raised awareness of the gym, attracted new users to exercise sessions and ensured natural surveillance of the gym. All sessions were successful in attracting new outdoor gym users and increased both new and experienced users’ confidence in correct equipment use. Interestingly, all respondents reported they would use the outdoor gym again and recommend it to a friend.

Of course, a study such as this is limited by the nature of the self-reported data from a small sample of older adults in one park setting. It is also unclear how many older people live in this suburb, making it difficult to ascertain its representativeness. Yet these results are indicative that older Australians can be recruited and retained in the use of outdoor gyms.  So it looks like mum and I will be having that conversation after all!


Article: Design and promotion of an outdoor gym for older adults: a collaborative project. Ashleigh Scott, Vicki Stride, Leonie Neville and Myna Hua,  Health Promotion Journal of Australia; 2015; Vol 25, Issue 3; 212-214.


About JournalWatch

The Public Health Advocacy Institute WA (PHAIWA) JournalWatch service reviews 10 key public health journals on a monthly basis, providing a précis of articles that highlight key public health and advocacy related findings, with an emphasis on findings that can be readily translated into policy or practice.

These reviews are then emailed to all JournalWatch subscribers and are placed on the PHAIWA website. To subscribe click to Journal Watch click here.





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