As we age, movement and physical activity become vitally important to maintaining health and well-being. Changes to bodies and bones, as well as emotional and mental challenges that may come with age give more urgency to getting off the couch and out into the world.
Exercise and sports have countless benefits, including rebuilding muscle mass, improving illnesses like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis. Endorphins and other “feel good chemicals” released following a bout of physical activity improves mood and helps keep the brain sharp. Including friendly competition in an exercise regime can increase motivation and camaraderie. Finding an activity or sport that you like is the key to a better quality of life.
“Once you find something enjoyable, work it into your daily routine,” says Becca Rhoades Carver, director of wellness at Brethren Village. “Gradually increase your activity level to make it a lifelong habit.”
She says it’s important for older adults to get active every day for at least 30 minutes to improve overall health — mentally and physically — so they can stay independent longer.
“Wellness is more than gym and swim,” Carver says.
From walking the dog to gardening, it’s all beneficial.
Tackling a new sport can be good for the body and soul. While rock climbing and snowboarding may be too intense for the over-50 crowd, there are plenty of activities that are easy, affordable (or free) and improve stamina and strength. Many people find a sense of community within their activity, which increases overall wellness.
“Learning new skills strengthens the synapses in the brain,” says Katy Moline, director of Active Agers at Universal Athletic Club. She is also in charge of the Silver Sneakers program at the gym.
“The goal is to challenge people without frustrating them,” Moline says. “If you feel uncoordinated in Silver Sneakers Classic, then you’re in the right place. Using your brain while moving is going to help improve brain health as well.”
While many consider sports as just for competition or for professionals, it doesn’t have to be that way.
“Training for the unpredictability of everyday life is like an insurance policy for health — and disease and injury prevention,” Moline says.
Through the cooler weather months, joining a gym for indoor options may be worthwhile. No matter how you chose to get your heart rate up, your body will thank you.
Here’s some popular sports that benefit people over 50:
Hitting the golf course is a popular perennial pastime among the young and old alike. Swinging the club strengthens core muscles, plus players can hit 10,000 steps — that’s about 5 miles — in a round, according to the health information website WebMD.
“It encourages seniors to socialize, players usually stick with it and it improves concentration and quality of life,” notes George Salem, associate professor in the USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy, in an article for USC News. Golf also improves walking and standing ability, balance, strength and cognitive processing, he says.
Tennis offers a slew of health benefits, but it can be hazardous during winter weather. Fortunately, other indoor racquet sports like pickleball, badminton and squash produce similar mental and physical health benefits.
Playing pickleball can lower your risk of heart disease, improve your mood, increase range of motion, and help you feel less lonely, all of which help seniors stay independent longer, according to the Silver Sneakers website.
Table tennis, which requires quick reflexes, agility, hand-eye coordination and keeps those neurons firing, is another sport well worth the time. This sport improves mental, emotional and physical health among players, according to the nonprofit Health Fitness Revolution. Lancaster is home to Manor Table Tennis Club, which is open to beginners and masters and everyone in between.
Taking a stroll around the neighborhood or a more intense power walk is a simple, accessible and effective way improve health and longevity. Many gyms have indoor walking tracks. A pair of comfortable sneakers and bright clothing (for walking outside) is about the only equipment required.
According to The Caregivers Space, the science-backed health benefits of walking include building stamina and improving cardiovascular health. Walking is easier to stick with than going to a gym, it helps prevent weight problems, and it boosts your immune system. Walking can be done alone or with a buddy or group. It is low risk for injury in older adults. Over time, distance, speed and terrain can be adjusted for more of a challenge.
Some may find Nordic walking, a sports trend using walking poles in the mountains, an invigorating endeavor.
Make a real splash in your wellness regiment by swimming. Water is over 800 times denser than air, creating built-in resistance, which increases muscular and cardiovascular fitness. Plus, the water supports 90% of your body weight, so there’s little stress on joints and bones, making it an ideal option for seniors.
According to the CDC, swimmers have about half the risk of death compared with inactive people.
Carver says 90-year old Roy Schroll, Jr. is the first resident to swim 500 miles at Brethren Village, clocking 22,000 lengths of the pool since January 2015. There are also three residents learning how to swim. “It’s just never too late,” she says.
If lap swimming isn’t your jam, try aquatic sports like water polo and water volleyball. The latter is “loud fun” for residents, Carver says. Synchronized swimming and movement are other fun ways to get your heart rate up.
Gyms like Universal Athletic Club provide popular aquatic classes — you don’t have to get your hair wet if you don’t want to — that can improve muscle tone and heart and lung function. Plus, there’s a soothing, bubbling whirlpool spa to relax in after a workout.
Scientists in 2018 discovered that cycling can hold back the effects of aging and rejuvenate the immune system. Their study group was 125 amateur cyclists aged 55 to 79. Two papers published in the journal Aging Cell revealed that cyclists preserved muscle mass and strength with age, while maintaining stable levels of body fat and cholesterol.
Yet another study found that regular cycling cut the risk of death from all causes by more than 40%, and cut the risk of cancer and heart disease by 45%.
Lancaster County has many miles of car-free greenways, parks, rail trails, and other scenic places to bike safely. Or you can cycle indoors on a stationary bike.
Cycling is a sport that improves balance, strength, breathing and heart health.