MANHATTAN — Forget dog walking. The city is trying to get older New Yorkers to use public parks for downward dogs.
As New York grows older — the Department of City Planning projects a 44 percent increase in the 65 and older club from 2000 to 2030 to 1.35 million — the city has been looking into age-friendly initiatives including a senior fitness program run by the City Parks Foundation.
The eight-week spring season for free yoga, tennis and "fitness walking" is starting up on April 30 in 14 parks across the city, growing from three pilot sites in 2006. The three Manhattan spots for the program geared to New Yorkers aged 60 and above are in Carl Schurz and John Jay parks on the Upper East Side and at East Harlem's Thomas Jefferson Park.
"We're trying to make this a holistic experience," said Mike Silverman, director of sports for the City Parks Foundation. "Instead of getting on a treadmill at home or in a gym, it gets people outside, into parks, meeting some new friends."
Silverman also listed numerous health benefits.
"It helps with maintaining or losing weight, minimizing risk for diabetes, heart attack and symptoms of arthritis," he said. "As we get older, it's important to move."
Silverman is looking to expand the program, which also has a six-week fall season, into more parks.
The sites are chosen based on various factors, including the need and support of the community, Silverman said, noting the heavy concentration of East Side sites were because City Councilwomen Jessica Lappin, of the Upper East Side, and Melissa Mark-Viverito, of East Harlem, expressed interest in having the program in their parks.
The Upper East Side, in particular, is home to Manhattan's highest percentage of people over age 60, with nearly 22 percent — roughly 49,000 residents — according to census data from the most recent American Community Survey.
"It's a great way to get our neighbors back into shape while meeting and reuniting," said Molly Blayney, who not only participates in the classes but also has become a liaison at John Jay Park between the organizers and students. She helps round up participants, who have now become friends who often meet at a French restaurant nearby in the off-season, she said.
The fitness classes in John Jay park, which kicked off last fall, have helped older adults get back into the 3.3-acre space between East 76th and 78th streets overlooking the East River, Blayney noted.
Now, one corner of the park is being renovated for what will be the city's first "adult playground," thanks to $250,000 secured by Lappin's office and a targeted effort by the East 79th Street Neighborhood Association.
New benches, chess tables and a soft ground surface will be installed along with three new pieces of exercise equipment geared to older park users — a stationary bike, core trainer and tai chi-like machine.
The yoga lovers fought to make sure that the exercise equipment would not interfere with their classes.
"The classes are very personal," Blayney said. "There's a real sweetness about these instructors. They make attendees feel very special."
But she added: "It's a little bit more strengthening than other yoga classes. The instructor doesn't give us old-fogey yoga. He gives us yoga, so you're ready for the day."
For more information about City Parks Foundation’s free Seniors Fitness programs, starting April 30, please call (718) 760-6999. Sessions are one hour, twice a week. The following is the spring schedule:
Carl Schurz Park, East 86th Street and East End Avenue
Walking: Mondays/Wednesdays at 8 a.m.
Yoga: Tuesdays/Thursdays at 9 a.m.
John Jay Park, East 77th Street and Cherokee Place
Yoga: Tuesdays/ Thursdays at 10:30 a.m.
Thomas Jefferson Park, 112th Street and First Avenue
Yoga: Mondays/Wednesdays at 10 a.m.