Park­ing for se­niors? No... park­our for se­niors!

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Maria Cheng

LON­DON — On a re­cent morn­ing in Lon­don, Lara Thom­son prac­ticed spin­ning on benches, swing­ing from metal bars and bal­anc­ing off raised ledges — all el­e­ments of a dare­devil dis­ci­pline known as “park­our.” What was un­usual about the scene is that Thom­son is 79 and all of her class­mates are over 60. They are mem­bers of a unique weekly class for se­niors in a sport more com­monly known for grav­ity-de­fy­ing jumps than help­ing people with arthri­tis. In­vented in the 1980s in France, park­our is a sport usu­ally favoured by ex­tremely nim­ble people who move freely through any ter­rain us­ing their own strength and flex­i­bil­ity, of­ten us­ing ur­ban en­vi­ron­ments such as benches, build­ings and walls as a type of ob­sta­cle course. It’s also known as free run­ning. The Lon­don park­our class of about a dozen stu­dents is taught by two in­struc­tors who have adapted the sport’s main el­e­ments to a level that can be han­dled even by those over 60 who have re­place­ment joints or other med­i­cal con­di­tions. “I won­dered whether it was a govern­ment plot to get rid of old people when I heard about the class,” Thom­son joked. She said she has bal­ance prob­lems and that the class helps her feel more con­fi­dent about get­ting around. “Be­ing able to get out­side and do silly things like hug­ging trees is great,” she said, re­fer­ring to a stretch­ing ex­er­cise. While most fit­ness classes aimed at se­niors fo­cus on calmer ac­tiv­i­ties such as dance or yoga, ex­perts say park­our is a rea­son­able, if un­ortho­dox, op­tion. “When I first heard about this, I had a pic­ture in my mind of el­derly people jump­ing off of walls and I thought there was no way this could be ap­pro­pri­ate,” said Bruce Pa­ton, a phys­i­cal ther­a­pist who works with the el­derly at the In­sti­tute of Sport, Ex­er­cise and Health at Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don. He is not con­nected to the pro­gram. “But when you look at the things they’re do­ing, it’s ac­tu­ally quite gen­tle and could in­crease their strength and flex­i­bil­ity to help them with their daily ac­tiv­i­ties.”

Still, Pa­ton said park­our could po­ten­tially be dan­ger­ous for people with se­ri­ous heart prob­lems and warned any­one with a joint re­place­ment or mus­cle weak­ness should be care­ful. The park­our in­struc­tors said ev­ery­one who takes the class fills out a health form and they are par­tic­u­larly care­ful to dis­suade par­tic­i­pants from do­ing too much; sev­eral stu­dents have ar­ti­fi­cial joints, arthri­tis or a pace­maker. “Ev­ery sin­gle tech­nique in park­our can be changed so that any­one can do it,” said Jade Shaw, artis­tic di­rec­tor of Park­our Dance, who teaches the class. The park­our ses­sions ini­tially be­gan as a pi­lot project last year and Shaw is hop­ing to get more fund­ing to ex­pand it fur­ther. For now, the classes are free and held at a Ti­betan Bud­dhist cen­tre in South Lon­don. “I think it’s very ben­e­fi­cial and I’m hop­ing we’ll soon have a lot more older people bounc­ing around the parks,” she said. David Ter­race, a health and fit­ness ex­pert for the char­ity Age U.K., said any ef­forts to get older people more ac­tive should be wel­comed. He said adap­ta­tions have been made to other sports to help the el­derly ex­er­cise more, such as turn­ing soc­cer into walk­ing soc­cer and build­ing cus­tom­ized boats to ac­com­mo­date wheel­chairs for sail­ing. “There’s no age limit for ex­er­cise, it’s just about the in­di­vid­ual and what they feel com­fort­able do­ing,” he said. At 85, Ge­orge Jack­son is the old­est par­tic­i­pant in the Lon­don park­our class. “I re­ally en­joy it and wish I could do more,” said Jack­son, an army vet­eran and for­mer boxer. “I just some­times for­get how old I am and that I can’t do cer­tain things.” He said he strug­gles with a swollen an­kle and knee but that the class has helped. “I was limp­ing around be­fore and now I can walk straight,” Jack­son said. “But I still don’t plan to jump off of any­thing higher than a bench.”

LEFTERIS PITARAKIS / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Army vet­eran and for­mer boxer Ge­orge Jack­son, 85, has a swingin’ time on the mon­key bars dur­ing a park­our class in Lon­don.

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