Feature Article - January 2006
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Play to Live, Live to Play

Playground development, from design to construction and beyond

By Kyle Ryan

Health & Developmental Benefits of Playgrounds

Here's a news flash: Obesity is on the rise. But the most disturbing part of the trend may be that it affects all ages: According to the National Institute of Health Statistics, the obesity rate among elementary-school-age children was 15 percent in 2001, up from 7 percent in 1980.

In his book The Developmental Benefits Of Playgrounds, Dr. Joe Frost found that 7- to 11-year-olds who participated in a four-month program of sustained exercise for 40 minutes every day experienced "significant" reduction in body fat without any changes in their diet. However, as schools face tighter budgets, fewer offer physical-education classes or recess, which contributes to the problem. A recent study cited by the International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA) suggested that kids burn half of their recommended daily caloric expenditure during free-play sessions like recess. The Children's Institute for Learning and Development (CHILD) found that free play also helps foster children's emotional development.

Even something as simple as monkey bars can have health benefits. To move across a set of monkey bars, kids must be able support their own weight—even to hang on monkey bars, they need some kind of upper-body strength. If they lack the necessary power, they develop it rapidly, sometimes over the course of a few days, according to an article by IPEMA. Simply swinging from bar to bar increases children's hand-eye coordination, their understanding of gravitational force and their knowledge of weight transfer.

Combine an upper-body activity like that with other muscle groups used during play activities, and it's easy for kids to get adequate exercise—without them even knowing it.