The National Ageing Research Institute’s ENJOY project has been recognised for its work to create age-friendly outdoor spaces for older people to engage in physical and social activities.

The annual Parks and Leisure Australia Awards for Excellence for Victoria and Tasmania, held in July, celebrated initiatives that promoted good use of leisure time for social, environmental and economic benefits to the community.

The ENJOY project won the 2021 Research Award, for outstanding research that has made a significant contribution to the parks and leisure industry through expanded knowledge enhancement and promoted the benefits and importance of the parks and leisure sector in Australian society. The project is now a finalist in the upcoming national awards.

Led by NARI’s Professor Pazit Levinger, a team of researchers collaborated to design the ENJOY project, including experts in exercise intervention, falls prevention, public health, mental health, geriatrics and ageing.

“Creating inclusive and accessible outdoor environments that encourage and provide opportunities for older adults to engage in physical activity and social interaction is important for healthy ageing,” Professor Levinger said.

“Outdoor exercise has been shown to improve mood and self-esteem in older people, and can also reduce feelings of loneliness and social isolation. However, most outdoor spaces are designed for children or younger adults, with limited suitable outdoor exercise equipment and space for older people.”

“Only 25 per cent of older people in Australia currently meet the recommended physical activity guidelines, so we need to rethink how parks can best be designed so they offer place for older people as well.”

Professor Levinger said participants in the ENJOY Seniors Exercise Park physical activity program showed significant improvements in physical strength and functional mobility, which were sustained long term. Seniors Exercise Parks feature innovative outdoor exercise equipment designed for older people that integrates multiple exercise stations to improve strength, balance, flexibility, mobility and function.

“Importantly, their physical activity level also increased from sedentary to being sufficiently active to gain health benefits. They also rated quality of life, wellbeing, fear of falls, falls risk, depressive symptoms and loneliness as significantly improved.”

“We’re very proud of this project’s research outcomes, which have contributed to building a body of evidence on the positive impact of purpose-built Seniors Exercise Parks to promote healthy ageing. Creating opportunities for older people to engage in outdoor physical activity is important and requires real commitment from the community and local governments,” Professor Levinger said.

The ENJOY (Exercise interveNtion outdoor proJect in the cOmmunitY) project has led to the creation of four age-friendly sites in Victoria, including one in an aged care facility, two locations in Western Australia, and two outdoor spaces in not-for-profit senior organisations in Victoria and in Western Australia.

The ENJOY project was undertaken by NARI in partnership with Wyndham and Whittlesea City Councils and the Old Colonists’ Association of Victoria, and supported by Gandel Philanthropy.

“We are incredibly grateful to Gandel Philanthropy for its generous support to promote public health, and to address the need for more age-friendly active outdoor spaces that provide opportunities for older people to engage in safe physical and social activities.”

“Our research shows that when you create accessible outdoor environments that encourage and provide opportunities for older people to engage in physical activity and social interaction, they will participate – and this is critical for healthy ageing,” Professor Levinger said.