Japan's elderly playgrounds show fun is for everyone

Mon Oct 26, 2009 7:58am EDT
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By Chika Osaka

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Who says playgrounds are just for children? In Japan, the world's fastest aging society, the elderly are the ones taking to the climbing frame these days.

Many elderly Japanese are taking part in increasingly popular workout classes which use playground equipment designed for the country's rapidly graying population.

And with fewer and fewer people having children, and nearly a fifth of the 123 million population aged above 65, it made sense for local governments to disassemble children's playgrounds and convert them into fitness parks for the retired.

The workout classes, also funded by local governments, teach the elderly how to use the equipment.

"If I'm at home, I tend to slouch or lie down, but if I come here, I straighten my back, as everyone else is working out with so much energy," said Soichiro Saito, a 79-year-old who takes part in a once-a-week gym class.

Saito's class swing around on a specially designed climbing frame at a Tokyo park, walk down balance beams and stretch their muscle on poles under the watchful eyes of trainers.

Most of the senior citizens participating in the classes relish not only the exercises, but the company.

Many are isolated from the local community, either living on their own or with their elderly spouses. Others say they are taking the classes to remain fit and independent -- and out of hospitals or nursing homes.   Continued...

<p>Elderly people visit a public garden in Tokyo in this July 16, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Thomas White/Files</p>