Pensioners put through the paces in outdoor London gym

At 85, Ronald Woolf struggles to get around without the help of his mobility scooter but he was among the first to try out London's first open-air gym for pensioners when it opened Wednesday.

In the leafy surrounds of the capital's famous Hyde Park, the widower had a go on a recumbent bicycle, one of six machines installed in the gym with the aim of providing gentle exercise for the over 60s.

"I'd best bring a cushion next time," Woolf said as he stretched his legs out in the bright sunshine next to the park's bowling green and tennis courts. "But this one's alright for me. It's doing me the world of good."

Well-established in China and across Europe, the "pensioners' playground" is the first of its kind in London and has been set up with 40,000 pounds (57,000 dollars, 47,000 euros) from the local council.

"It's so much nicer than a gym, being in the fresh air, in this beautiful garden. And you don't need any fancy shoes or clothes," said Madeline Elsdon, a member of the local residents' association who came up with the idea.

She said she was "thrilled" with the response to the new gym, which includes a cross-trainer, a sit-up bench, the exercise bike, a flex wheel to work the arms, a foot wheel to flex the hips, and a machine to stretch the legs.

They are all designed to offer low-impact, gentle exercise rather than a serious workout, as a warm-up before a walk around the park, as well as a place for people to meet friends and socialise.

Although the gym is aimed at the over 60s, any adults over the age of 16 are allowed to use the machines - but organisers do not expect serious fitness fanatics to spend much time here as it will likely be too easy.

Watching 79-year-old Eve Margolis pedal at high speed backwards on the cross-trainer suggests they may also be too easy for some pensioners, although she says the machines can go as fast or as slowly as you want.

"You only do what is suitable for your abilities," she said.

Margolis was a keen skier until a couple of years ago but says she doesn't like normal gyms, adding: "This encourages me, gets me out in the air."

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