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Best sports for older adults, according to experts

It doesn’t matter if you’re a duffer, terrible putter or serial slicer. The beauty of golf is in spending time outdoors, hitting a few nice shots and getting a bit of exercise, all while enjoying the pleasure of good company.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a duffer, terrible putter or serial slicer. The beauty of golf is in spending time outdoors, hitting a few nice shots and getting a bit of exercise, all while enjoying the pleasure of good company.
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By Robby Brumberg 

Forbes Health 

The joy of playing sports may seem like a young person’s game. But why should they have all the fun — not to mention all the health benefits — that can be unlocked by athletics? 

According to research conducted at a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research center, older adults can reap an array of rewards from physical activity, ranging from improved physical, emotional and social health scores to a decreased risk of hospitalization. 

Thankfully, your athletic glory days don’t have to end as you age. In fact, here are some of the best sports and athletic endeavors for older adults to enjoy according to experts, science and data.

 

Why Staying Active Is Essential 

Exercise is crucial for the mind, body and soul, according to Rachel Tavel, a doctor of physical therapy and Forbes Health Advisory Board member. 

“Staying active as we age is incredibly important for a number of mental, physical and emotional reasons,” she says. Participating in sports, whether individually or as part of a club, group or team, is a terrific way to provide a consistent spark of motivation to stay moving. That movement is especially important as we get older and our bodies start losing muscle and bone, says Dr. Tavel. 

“Sports can provide a great way for aging adults to improve their cardiovascular health, musculoskeletal strength and even coordination and balance. Not to mention, it’s a great opportunity to be social.”

 

Recommended Sports to Try 

Pickleball 

Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the U.S. — and for good reason. The tennis/ping-pong hybrid sport is fun, fast-paced and highly social, and it can be enjoyed at just about any age or skill level. The “all are welcome” nature of pickleball is a big draw as well — especially for older adults. 

Research backs the benefits of this paddle-powered sport. A study of 153 older adults in the journal Leisure Studies found playing pickleball to be associated with lower levels of depression. It also confirmed that pickleball can support better hand-eye coordination, increase agility and coordination, and boost muscle strength and function.

 

Golf 

For millions around the world, golf is much more than a game. It’s a refuge, a passion and an indispensable mental health outlet. It’s also conduit for meaningful social connectivity. 

As a study in the Golf Science Journal found, playing golf is associated with improved physical health and mental well-being, which can potentially contribute to increased life expectancy[3]. 

Another nice aspect of golf is that you can choose to walk or ride in a cart, depending on how much exercise or exertion you’re after. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re a duffer, terrible putter or serial slicer. The beauty of golf is in spending time outdoors, hitting a few nice shots and getting a bit of exercise, all while enjoying the pleasure of good (and hopefully patient) company.

 

Swimming 

Swimming is great for cardiovascular health and can be easier on the joints than high-impact sports, as it provides a sense of buoyancy, says Dr. Tavel. However, there is a possible downside. 

“This buoyancy can also work against some people by reducing the stress needed to load the musculoskeletal system enough to maintain and increase bone strength,” explains Dr. Tavel. 

With that said, swimming is generally a terrific sport for older adults. It can provide a broad array of physical and mental health benefits, from protecting mental health to lowering your risk of early death.

 

Exercise Classes 

Don’t underestimate the power of group aerobic activity. A study conducted by the University of Washington’s Health Promotion Research Center state found older adults who participated in a program called EnhanceFitness at least once a week experienced significantly fewer hospitalizations and lower health care costs than those who didn’t participate.” 

Researchers from the same institution compared an exercise class group with a cohort of non-attendees and found the exercise classes led to significantly better health statuses for the exercise group by a range of 10% to 30%. 

Whether you prefer yoga, pilates, Jazzercise, tai chi or something else entirely, you can find a class or group that sparks your interest and benefits your health.

 

Lower Mobility Options 

Those with limited mobility may have to modify their sport participation or perhaps seek training  prior to getting involved. Another option may be to try different variations of more common sports. For example, sports like walking soccer and walking basketball (which are played the same as soccer and basketball, respectively, just with no running allowed) are gaining momentum. 

Even if you don’t feel up to joining an official club or team, you can still work with a physical therapist or personal trainer to address your limitations and options that may best suit you, says Dr. Tavel. She notes stationary cycling, seated resistance exercises and even simple movements like getting up and down from a chair or going for long walks as valuable forms of exercise that can help people stay active and socially independent. Shuffleboard, darts, billiards, bocce ball and fishing are lots of fun, too.

 

Focus on Social Bonds 

Whatever activity you choose to pursue, it’s smart to focus on the communal and social aspects of sports, according to Sarah Lock, senior vice president of policy at AARP. 

“Our experts recommended choosing a simple, achievable goal you think you might enjoy,” she says. “If your goal is to become more physically active, for example, if you hate running but like to dance, look for a dance class you can join instead of signing up for a 5K. Think about choosing an activity you can do with another person so you can be each other’s ‘accountability buddy,’ which can help you each sustain the activity and provide social engagement.” 

Communities and caring individuals can help get older adults in the game and continue forging strong social bonds, too.

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