This is a small request to playground designers from a dad doing his best to stay fit: Remember that adults spend a lot of time at the playgrounds you build, and we could also use a little something to burn some calories.
Every single day, I see some news headline screaming about the nation’s obesity rate. Which is odd, because I also can’t escape people on their way to Crossfit, hot yoga, pilates or whatever classes. A good chunk of those people are parents -- parents who happen to spend a lot of time watching their kids go wild on playgrounds.
There is no better way to help parents get fit (or fitter) than by making a few modest additions to your playgrounds. For example, the city of Mesa recently renovated Pioneer Park to the tune of more than $7 million. That’s money well-spent – it’s a terrific example of a playground and park that looks great and keeps kids occupied. It’s beautiful and modern and flat-out awesome.
But how much more would it cost if the playground designers had put in some adult-sized pull-up bars and monkey bars? Maybe a bouldering wall? Or even just a simple rope-climbing station or three. Something tells me that would be just a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of the Pioneer Park overhaul. And these additions would promote and enhance functional fitness.
Let’s go back to the so-called "obesity epidemic." American sports culture isn’t really about participation – it’s all about passive watching. I don’t even know where to find the statistics, but I would bet that most of the time allotted for sports leagues at public parks goes to youth sports. The message here is clear: You play sports when you’re a kid, then you turn 21 and start going to "sports bars" to watch other people sports, and then you become a parent and never raise your heart rate past 100 again. Then researchers and public officials wag their collective finger at us while simultaneously taking zero substantive steps to address the problem.
Not even with something simple, like putting some adult-sized fitness apparatus (apparati? What’s the plural there?) on the playgrounds where we spend a good chunk of time with our kids. It’s a simple, low-key, relatively low-cost addition for playground designers. It doesn’t have to be as elaborate as this adult playground … not that I would mind having this near me!
Let’s think about the example that sets: If the kids see their parents cranking out pullups, box jumps, pushups and whatnot, staying physically active becomes their norm. We shift the thinking from the current "go to the gym because New Year’s resolutions to lose some of that fat" to "lifelong healthy lifestyle."
Remember, this doesn’t need to be extensive or expensive – but it can be, and I’m absolutely salivating over the GameTime Challenge Course. But even just a few small features could create a huge shift in the way we think of fitness. Over the past year, I’ve moved to chipping away at a few calories everywhere possible rather than just saving it for the gym, even if it’s just a few push-ups or turning a low wall or park bench into a box-jump station. I would be thrilled for a place where I could do a few things I can’t do at home, especially monkey bars and a rope-climbing station. I’m sure every parent who does Warrior Dash, Spartan, Tough Mudder or other obstacle course races would agree. Even parents who don’t get into that stuff could have some fun with these challenges.
So, playground designers, next time you plan a playground, remember that there are parents out there who could really use that time to get some exercise along with their kids. It’s already starting to happen in some cities – the expertise and desire are there. So get onboard!