Supplement Feature - April 2013
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Imagination at Play

Trends in Playground Design

By Wynn St. Clair

While still relatively novel in the United States, adult playgrounds long have been popular in China and parts of western Europe. In those areas, older populations have happily made the sites a part of their daily fitness routines.

Kelly Singer, a personal trainer based in the Seattle area, first admired adult playgrounds while living in Paris with her husband. She'd watch the French enjoy a solid workout at playgrounds along the Seine and thought the city had tapped into a unique way to get people moving.

She didn't realize its potential in the United States until 2011, while she was helping her friend Paige Green Dunn lose weight after having a baby. During a training session at Dunn's home, the women struggled to get a decent workout in amid the baby crawling everywhere, the dog pestering them to play and other distractions. Dunn wondered if she would ever find the time—or the peace—to truly get back in shape.

It seemed hopeless until a few weeks later, when Dunn and Singer had a "eureka!" moment while sitting together at a local park. Ever since that at-home workout debacle, they had been brainstorming ways to create an environment where it was easy for the whole family to exercise, as often moms (and other caregivers) put their own health on the back burner for the sake of their children.

As they watched other moms sit on benches or stand around talking while their kids played, the women realized the answer was right in front of them.

The two mothers soon launched a grassroots campaign to build "MOMentum" sites to help new mothers shed their baby weight. Each site faces a children's play area and holds five pieces of equipment that specifically target the areas moms care about most: abs, arms, hips and thighs.

The stationary, weather-proof equipment—which does not require electricity—includes a free runner, a sit-up bench, a hip flexor, push up bars and a captain's chair that facilitates leg lifts and helps build abdominal muscles. The area also features rubber mats and signage detailing exercises that can be accomplished on the ground.

"It's great way to get people outside," Singer said. "Parks just offer a great sense of community and there's something to be said for facilitating a way for people to be more active. People want to be active, they want to be healthy. They just need the resources, and that's what we want to provide."

The women raised $30,000 to cover the equipment costs of the first MOMentum site at Les Gove Park in Auburn, Wash., while the parks department covered the cost of the installation and concrete. A second was dedicated in Redmond, Wash., last summer, and there are plans to build three others in the Seattle area soon.

Both existing sites have developed enthusiastic and loyal followings. But even more exciting for Singer and Dunn are the number of children who have seen their mothers working out and caring about their own health because of the MOMentum initiative. The mere visual teaches kids about the importance of staying in shape—and it's a lesson they will carry with them their entire lives, Dunn said.

"I believe healthy mothers raise healthy kids," Dunn said. "If we can make it easier for a mom to exercise with quality equipment, she will become the foundation for a lifetime of healthy choices for herself and everyone around her."