As we age, movement and physical activity become vitally important for maintaining health and well-being. Changes in the body and bones, along with the emotional and mental challenges that can arise with age, make it more urgent to get off the couch and step out into the world.
Exercise and sport have countless benefits, including rebuilding muscle mass, improving conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and arthritis. Endorphins and other “feel-good chemicals” released as a result of physical activity improve mood and help keep the brain alert. Including friendly competition in an exercise regimen can increase motivation and camaraderie. Finding an activity or sport that you like is the key to a better quality of life.
“Once you’ve found something enjoyable, make it part of your daily routine,” says Becca Rhoades Carver, Wellness Director at Brethren Village. “Gradually increase your activity level to make it a lifelong habit. “
She says it’s important for older people to be active every day for at least 30 minutes to improve their overall health – mentally and physically – so they can stay independent longer.
“Wellness is more than the gym and swimming,” says Carver.
From walking the dog to gardening, everything is beneficial.
Taking on a new sport can be good for both body and soul. While rock climbing and snowboarding can be too intense for those over 50, there are plenty of activities that are easy, affordable (or free) that improve endurance and strength. Many people find a sense of community within their activity, which increases their overall well-being.
“Learning new skills strengthens synapses in the brain,” says Katy Moline, director of Active Agers at Universal Athletic Club. She is also responsible for the Silver Sneakers program at the gym.
“The goal is to challenge people without frustrating them,” says Moline. “If you don’t feel coordinated in Silver Sneakers Classic, then you’ve come to the right place. Using your brain while you move will also help improve brain health. “
While many see the sport as a 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 the prevention of illness and injury,” says Moline.
During the cooler months, joining a gym for indoor options can be helpful. No matter how you choose to increase your heart rate, your body will thank you.
Here are some popular sports that benefit people over 50:
Hitting the golf course is a perennial pastime popular among young and old alike. Swinging the club strengthens core muscles, and players can take 10,000 steps – or about 5 miles – in one turn, according to the health information website WebMD.
“It encourages older people to socialize, players generally stick to it, and it improves focus and quality of life,” notes George Salem, associate professor in the USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physiotherapy, in an article for USC News. . Golf also improves walking and the ability to stand, balance, strength and cognitive processing, he says.
Tennis offers many health benefits, but it can be dangerous in the winter. Fortunately, other indoor racquet sports like pickleball, badminton, and squash produce similar mental and physical health benefits.
Playing pickleball can lower your risk for heart disease, improve your mood, increase your range of motion, and help you feel less lonely, which helps older people stay independent longer, according to the Silver Sneakers website.
Another sport worth doing is table tennis, which requires quick reflexes, agility, hand-eye coordination and keeps those neurons active. The sport improves the mental, emotional and physical health of players, according to the nonprofit Health Fitness Revolution. Lancaster is home to the Manor Table Tennis Club, which is open to beginners and masters and all intermediates.
Taking a neighborhood walk or a more strenuous walk is a simple, accessible, and effective way to improve health and longevity. Many gyms have indoor walking tracks. A comfortable pair of sneakers and bright clothes (for walking outside) are about the only equipment required.
According to The Caregivers Space, the health benefits of walking, backed by science, include building endurance and improving cardiovascular health. It is easier to walk than to go to the gym, it helps prevent weight problems and it strengthens your immune system. The walk can be done alone or with a friend or a group. There is a low risk of injury in the elderly. Over time, distance, speed, and terrain can be adjusted for more challenge.
Some may find Nordic walking, a sporting trend using trekking poles, an invigorating activity.
Take a real dip in your wellness regiment by swimming. Water is over 800 times denser than air, creating built-in resistance that increases muscle and cardiovascular fitness. In addition, water supports 90% of your body weight, so there is little stress on the joints and bones, making it an ideal option for the elderly.
According to the CDC, swimmers have about half the risk of death compared to inactive people.
Carver says Roy Schroll, Jr., 90, is the first resident to swim 500 miles at Brethren Village, totaling 22,000 pool lengths since January 2015. Three residents are also learning to swim. “It’s never too late,” she said.
If lap swimming isn’t your passion, try water sports like water polo and water volleyball. The latter is “a noisy delight” for residents, Carver says. Synchronized swimming and swimming are other fun ways to increase your heart rate.
Gyms like Universal Athletic Club have popular aquatic classes – you don’t have to get your hair wet if you don’t want to – that can improve muscle tone and improve heart and lung function. Plus, there’s a soothing, bubbling hot tub to unwind after a workout.
Scientists discovered in 2018 that cycling can curb the effects of aging and rejuvenate the immune system. Their study group consisted of 125 amateur cyclists aged 55 to 79. Two articles published in the journal Aging Cell found that cyclists maintained muscle mass and strength with age, while maintaining stable levels of body fat and cholesterol.
Another study found that regular cycling reduced the risk of death from all causes by over 40% and the risk of cancer and heart disease by 45%.
Lancaster County has many miles of car-free greenways, parks, railroad tracks and other scenic spots for safe biking. Or you can cycle indoors on a stationary bike.
Cycling is a sport that improves balance, strength, breathing, and heart health.