It’s Not Too Late to Get Active by Taking Part in a New Recreational Sport or Fitness Hobby
Baby boomers get a bad rap sometimes when it comes to physical activity. Recent studies suggest that the rate of obesity and sedentary lifestyles are higher among boomers than among their parents’ generation. They’re also “more likely to have diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol than their parents” and they “may be relying too much on medication to solve their health problems” instead of making healthier lifestyle decisions.
But the writing isn’t on the wall yet.
Why It’s Important to Care About Physical Fitness at All Ages
Getting active at any time in life is better than not getting active at all. As summed up by Harvard Men's Health Watch, a 35-year study out of Sweden that followed more than 2,000 men and their various lifestyle habits showed that the participants that “adopted exercise” after the age of 50 experienced a substantially lower death rate than those that stayed inactive. And these results were echoed in a similar study out of Britain, which revealed “a strong link between exercise and survival. Even light exercise was protective, reducing the rate of death by 39%; moderate exercise was even better, cutting the mortality rate by 50%.”
And perhaps most importantly, those that “began to exercise later in life enjoyed a 45% lower mortality rate than men who remained sedentary throughout.” This was true even for participants already dealing with heart disease.
As noted in the article, the exercise incorporated into these improved lifestyles wasn’t always intense: It was often as simple as taking regular walks, “cycling for pleasure,” vigorous gardening, or playing a recreational sport.
On that note, here are some more sports and activities that are popular among older adults and that may inspire you to find a little more time for exercise in your daily routine.
Also known as “bowls,” lawn bowling's origins have been traced back to Ancient Egyptian (or even earlier). An outdoor activity involving four-person teams, lawn bowling creates opportunities to get in some low-impact exercise while staying social.
The general gist of the game involves taking turns throwing a series balls toward a “jack”; the team with the most balls closest to the jack wins. Spin, angle, weather conditions, and more, can all shake up the game and make it both challenging and fun.
And while the sport may not look particularly taxing, there are a number of health benefits that can be reaped from regular participation in bowls matches. In addition to the social benefits noted above, Desert Health News points out that the lunging and arm motions required in lawn bowling “[compress] the veins and [help] pump the blood back to the heart and lungs.” In turn, these rhythmic movements may contribute toward better sleep and improved heart health.
Best yet, lawn bowling is still largely dominated by individuals older than 50—for boomers looking to connect with people in their own demographic or phase of life, it may be a less intimidating option for new comers than other physical activities.
According to statistics provided by Curling Canada, more than a third of Canadian curlers are over the age of 50. As with lawn bowling, curling is a very social sport, and can help with community building and support for individuals who may find it hard to get out and socialize on a regular basis.
It’s also jam packed with physical health benefits: It involves lunging and squatting as well as an impressive amount of cool-temp cardio (you gotta “Hurry hard!” after all). As Health Fitness Revolution points out, “Working out in the cold can burn more calories, and since curling is played on ice and players are constantly competing and running back and forth trying to hit a goal, it will definitely increase your heart rate and improve the cardiovascular system.”
If going into a deep lunge for each “delivery” (see the “Hurry hard” link above for a glossary definition) seems like a movement you’re not sure your body can handle at the moment, consider trying stick curling: This “involves using a stick to send the rock down the ice” and may be gentler on some joints, while still providing a host of physical and mental health benefits.
If you’ve always been a fan of racket sports but aren’t sure that your joints are still primed for a tennis match, pickleball may be the sport for you. It involves hitting a perforated ball over a net with solid paddles and can be played with two or four people.
As a growing sport, it has a low cost of entry and attracts fitness and skill levels of all varieties. It can also help improve balance and hand-eye coordination, while bolstering the cardiovascular system and helping to “prevent many of the unwanted problems of older age like hypertension, stroke and heart attack.” Boomers, in particular, are flocking to this sport since it’s easy to pick up, doesn’t put a ton of stress on muscles, joints, and tendons, and provides players with an activity that helps them stay both fit and social.
Swimming and Aquatic Exercise Classes
Fitness class seekers are showing up to the pool in record numbers these days. According to stats reported by Elaine Schattner over at Forbes, “the number of certified aquatic fitness professionals has jumped by over 50% since 2009.”
So, why are water-based activities making such waves?
Schattner suggests that pool-based exercises can provide a vigorous workout without straining the body. They’re great for individuals managing symptoms of arthritis or other physical injuries as well as those who may struggle with balance. They’re also a fantastic way to clock some cardio—the water creates movement resistance, so a little bit of submerged shuffling can go a long way toward getting your heart rate up.
Swimming, too, can torch an impressive amount of calories. Depending on your weight, swimming at a slower pace can burn anywhere from 400 to 650 calories per hour (fast-paced, hour-long swims can burn almost 1,000 calories in that time!). Like other aquatic exercises, swimming is low impact, offering great health benefits while placing less strain on the body than land sports.
According to a 2011 government reporter, over 50% of birders in the United States are over the age of 45 and the average birder is 53 years old. No wonder—it’s a great way to add some interest to a daily walk and comes with a number of other great health benefits.
Studies suggest that spending even five minutes in a green space can impact your health in positive ways. It can boost your mood and immune system, improve sleep, relieve stress, and more. And bird watching, among other active nature-viewing activities, can amp those benefits up further, bumping up brain power and improving patience and focus.
If you’ve never identified a bird in your life and don’t know where to start, try picking up a regional bird guide on Amazon or at your local outdoor equipment store. Then, grab your guide and a pair of binoculars, and head outside to see what birds are flying around in your neighborhood. You may be surprised by how much variety you’ll find in a single city block, and once you start putting names to beaks, you may find that every time you head outside is like treating yourself to a mini treasure hunt. It may also inspire you to hit the hiking trails more often as you seek out new species and learn more about the environment around you.
Zumba, in essence, is a fitness class that incorporates high-energy dance moves to treat participants to an upbeat workout that’s as fun as it is good for the body. Conceived at the turn of the century, Zumba is one of the fastest-growing physical activity trends out there, with an estimated 15 million students making the weekly pilgrimage to their local fitness studios to take part in the craze.
Zumba’s recipe for success is neatly summed up by The Globe and Mail’s Kathleen Trotter, reporting on a recent experience she and her 63-year-old mom had in attending a class: “My mom loved Zumba because it combined something she felt she ‘should do’ with something she gets pleasure from; this combo made her want to do Zumba regularly.”
Trotter goes on to mention that the environment is more comfortable than expected due to the amount of concentration required for the activity (“no one seemed to have time to look around and judge others”), and that the benefits of the activity are manifold: “Having to react and dance in appropriate multidirectional patterns challenges the brain, increases cardiovascular fitness, improves agility and co-ordination, strengthens muscles and bones from multiple angles and enhances mobility.”
Trotter makes a good point that some moves may be too high-impact for some individuals. However, in most cases, these issues can be addressed by speaking to an instructor ahead of class for recommended adjustments.
While nothing quite beats the energy that comes from attending studio classes in-person, if you find regular class attendance pricy or inconvenient, there are an increasing number of Zumba videos you can view online to try the workout at home. You can even search YouTube for some free options.
Like Zumba, yoga is often performed at fitness studios and has exploded in popularity around the country in the past few decades. As of 2016, almost 37 million people across the United States were practicing yoga, with 38 percent of those individuals falling in the plus-50 age group.
There are a ton of great health benefits that come from hitting the mat regularly. For one, yoga increases flexibility, which, as this Huffington Post points out, is critical for older adults since “a limited range of motion, which naturally declines as the body ages, makes older adults predisposed to falls and eventually get in the way of daily activities.” Yoga can also boost the brain, improve focus, and better overall bone health.
The great news is that yoga flows geared toward seniors are as easier to find online as they are at a physical studio. Popular yoga channels and websites like Yoga with Adriene and DoYogaWithMe offer tons of free content, including gentler flows targeted toward an older crowd. That said, if you’re brand new to the yoga scene, we recommend you try out a studio class first or work one-on-one with an instructor to make sure you get the form down pat.
Golf is a well-known popular post-retirement activity. According to AmericanGolf.com, the average age of a golfer in the United States is 54 and almost 10 percent of the American population plays the sport.
But that leaves a whopping 90 percent of us that haven’t spent any time working on our swing. If you’re concerned about hitting the links for the first time as an older adult, Bobby Lewis, writing for LearnTheOnePlaneSwing.com, has some great advice: Consider getting one-on-one lessons first, make sure to source clubs that suit your needs, be patient with yourself, stick with a group that allows you to play at your own pace and not finish holes (if need be), and don’t be afraid of starting with the closer tee boxes.
Lewis also mentions some of golf’s great health benefits: “Walking 9 holes or 18 holes gives you a great cardiovascular workout...Also, being out on a golf course is a great way to relax and socialize with others.” In addition, as Eigca.org highlights, the walking involved in golf is great for your heart and can keep weight down—especially if you carry your own bag. It’s a low-impact sport that results in injury less often than other activities and may even help you live longer. As the article states, a Swedish study recently found that "golfers have a 40% lower death rate, which corresponds to a 5-year increase in life expectancy.” If these benefits check all your boxes, it may be time to get swingin’.
There Are So Many Ways to Add Life to Your Years
Trying to optimize for overall health can feel overwhelming sometimes, but finding ways to simplify routines and have fun while staying active can go a long way toward making the over-50 years the best of your life.
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