LONDON (AP) — 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 favored 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."