Tim Dowling: Forget the gym. Your local playground is more fun

From the top of the slide you can see - well, about as much as if you're standing next to the slide. It's not a very big slide. Simply by virtue of sitting on it, I am already halfway down. According to fresh research from Finland, however, the playground is one of the best places for adults to keep fit. I am sceptical about this, as I would be about any news report that begins, "At the Santa Claus Sports Institute in Lapland ..."

But a study by a team from the University of Lapland found that a group of elderly Finns between the ages of 65 and 81 saw significant improvement in their balance and coordination after three months of swings and roundabouts. Many of the subjects also said they felt empowered by using the playground equipment, although one can claim to be empowered by just about anything these days. The Finns are now planning to redesign their playgrounds to suit grannies as well as toddlers.

So I'm no longer considered too old for the climbing frame. I'm too young. Never mind, I've arranged an appointment at a playground of my acquaintance with Barbara Duff, who runs Agile Fitness in London, and Kathryn Payne, one of her trainers. Duff used to host a regular fitness class for a group of American women in a Berlin playground, so she is actually familiar with the concept. "We used to use the sand to lie down for our abdominal exercises," she says. And she has brought along her baby daughter Lillie, who is really too young to get much out of a playground, but her very presence makes the whole thing a little bit less weird.

I have chosen this particular playground - in the middle of Hyde Park in London - because I'm fairly sure I won't run into anyone I know. I used to take my kids here when I didn't want to talk to any other parents. Kathryn and Barbara are scoping out the equipment, which is all a bit smaller than I remembered it. It appears to have been recently redesigned to target at the under-fives; those lazy, shiftless under-fives.

Things don't start well. Kathryn suggests I do some dips using the railings up on the climbing frame, but after attacking the ladder with a little too much joie de vivre I bang my head on some adult-unfriendly steel outcropping. Had I then proceeded to fall off the climbing frame, we might have been able to call it a day, but I clung on.

Kathryn then gets me balancing on a post and doing one-legged squats with my eyes closed. I'm not sure what the post or the closed eyes are for; I think it just makes it look funnier to Kathryn. We move to the balancey plank thing, slung on chains between stanchions, for some alternate lunges. Barbara loves the balancey plank thing. It transforms the lunges into a marvellous core exercise because I have to use my core to keep from falling off. I don't like to tell her that it's not actually that difficult - a three-year-old could balance on it. Many do.

By degrees, a halting little circuit emerges: the plank, the slide, crawling through the tunnel, sliding down the pole, zipping through the hopscotch court. This brings back horrible memories of adventure playgrounds gone by, of having to rescue my screaming children by crawling along nets, wading through waist-high, toddler-infested lakes of plastic balls and snaking through narrow tubes, only to find a strange, snotty two-year-old coming the other way, all the while thinking, I can't believe this is how I'm spending my Saturday. And yet I've seen footage of the old Finns enjoying themselves on this same sort of equipment, smiling and laughing and rushing round for another go. Do they put something in the water at the Santa Claus Sports Institute?

The playground is filling up with mothers and toddlers, all of whom rightly regard a middle-aged man amusing himself on the equipment with profound suspicion, even though he is accompanied by two trainers and a baby. It is time for a quick warm down on the swings.

When was the last time you were on a swing? Don't worry, you never forget how. Uniquely among playground attractions, it's just as exhilarating as you remember: wind in your hair, landscape lurching to and fro, the urge to go ever faster and higher.

The trick is not to think about the chains breaking because you're too heavy. This is just not going to happen. If anything you will probably pull the whole frame right out of the ground on top of yourself.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.