Playgrounds are a go-to resource for parents and teachers to keep kids entertained and blow off some extra steam, but while swing sets and monkey bars are classics, research shows that rethinking our playgrounds with more innovative designs can actually help kids get more exercise.
The World Health Organization recommends that schoolchildren get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity every day, but 81 percent of 11 to 17-year-olds fail to hit that threshold globally. More scientists are now looking towards targeted playground design to boost exercise among younger generations.
Researchers are using wearable activity monitors to see how different designs impact exertion. Simple changes like more colorful equipment and more diverse play options are great for boosting involvement. A wide variety of activities help engage students that would otherwise sit on the sidelines and a study from Liverpool John Moores University in England found that after painting bright colors and designs on equipment, the average minutes of vigorous activity for students jumped from 27 to 45.
Loose play equipment is another big factor. The proportion of students engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity at 19 schools in Los Angeles County was roughly 10 to 20 percentage points higher in play areas with loose equipment.
Lastly, it’s important not to undervalue variety. Children crave new and exciting experiences, so creating a spectrum of play areas and designs across schools and parks is very effective for keeping kids engaged in play.
Areas that have implemented these changes are already seeing positive results. When a school in Leadville, Colorado replaced their run-down equipment with climbing nets, twisting slides, colorful swings, and a new basketball court, they saw a significant boost in recess activity level and more widespread involvement in play among students.
For most children, after school and recess play accounts for a majority of physical exercise, yet childhood obesity is a rising issue in many countries. Optimizing existing resources like playgrounds to encourage more active play is a feasible and relatively easy solution to integrate more exercise into our children’s lives. Making playgrounds more diverse, colorful, and varied captivates the attention of all children and pushes kids to unconsciously incorporate healthier habits into their daily lives. The best part is that kids are boosting their physical health and having more fun than ever while doing it!