Physical Activities and Sports for Seniors

Physical activity (exercise) and recreational sports can be important for people of all ages, including seniors. However, if you are a senior or know a senior who wants to perform sports, be careful with your choice. Choosing the wrong activity or sport can lead to injuries, so we’ve got you covered with recommendations.

Key takeaways:
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    It's estimated that by 2050, 1 out of every 5 persons in the world will be over aged 60, compared to 1 out of 10 today.
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    Physical activity has many health benefits for seniors.
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    Non-contact sports are more safe for seniors, including tennis, pickleball, golf, bowling, non-competitive swimming, cycling, hiking, and walking.

Increasing population of seniors

Along with the increasing medical knowledge and advances of the 21st century is a rising population of seniors. It's estimated that by 2050, 1 out of every 5 persons in the world will be over aged 60, compared to 1 out of 10 today.

Importance of physical activity for seniors

It is well known that physical inactivity can lead to many non-communicable diseases. In contrast, physical activity has many health benefits, listed below:

  • Better heart function;
  • Lower blood pressure;
  • Improved lung function;
  • Improved psychological mood;
  • Decreased risk of certain cancers;
  • Managing weight;
  • Improves the strength of the muscles and bones;
  • Increased ability to perform activities and prevent falls.

In addition, a study published in the December 2021 edition of the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found exercise can delay and prevent the development of dementia.

Please realize that the more you exercise, the more likely you will obtain the health benefits (mentioned above).

Recommendations for exercise

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults aged 65 and older perform moderate exercise 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, or do 75 minutes a week of vigorous exercise. In addition, they recommend performing anaerobic (strengthening) activities twice a week. But, of course, these are just recommendations.

Different kinds of sports by category

There are multiple types of physical activities for seniors.

Contact sports

Contact sports involve players contacting other players or objects, including American football, soccer, ice hockey, lacrosse, and boxing.

These contact sports have the highest risk of injury and are too dangerous for seniors!

However, there is one contact sport that many seniors can play with relative safety: basketball.

Even though basketball is considered a contact sport, a friendly game without any fouls or collisions could be reasonably safe, even for seniors.

Limited-contact sports

Limited-contact sports are those in which there is no frequent contact with other players or objects; they include softball, racquetball, and squash. You could end up colliding with another person, but if you play cautiously, this is unlikely. As far as seniors are concerned, it's a matter of personal preference if you want to take the chance.

Non-contact sports

Non-contact sports are those in which contact with another participant or object is rare, like tennis and pickleball. Even though you could get hit by the ball or collide with your doubles partner, the sport is considered non-contact.

Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the United States, among all ages, especially seniors. Pickleball is a sport that combines aspects of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. Pickleball is played on a court much smaller than a tennis court; players use paddles and hit a plastic ball with holes.

Pickleball has the thrills of tennis without the amount of running. Other reasons pickleball has become so popular are its low injury risk and easy learnability. It doesn’t require hours of lessons or years of practice. Many people can learn to play the sport after about five minutes. In addition, with pickleball, the distance is less between your partner and your opponent than in tennis, which leads to more social interaction. For a more detailed discussion of pickleball, please refer to our article Six Reasons You Should Try Pickleball in 2023.

Another non-contact sport that is an excellent activity for seniors is golf, thus, the preponderance of golf courses in retirement communities. It's unlikely to sustain a traumatic injury on a golf course, but it could happen if you get hit by another player's golf ball or, even more rarely, have your golf ball bounce back to hit you.

The one drawback to golfing occurs when playing with a cart is that there isn't as much walking, which reduces the health benefits.

Bowling is another non-contact sport that can be great for seniors as long as you don't choose a bowling ball that's excessively heavy. The major hazard for seniors with bowling is slipping on the floor, so we recommend you wear a good pair of bowling shoes: buy a well-fitting pair on your own instead of using the rented shoes.

Any of the above non-contact sports can still cause injury for seniors, even when no contact is involved. With any sport, there can be strains of the back, neck, or extremities. In addition, if the person falls during the sport, they could develop a head injury or a skin abrasion. Thus, we recommend footwear and proper attire. A brace can be a good idea if you have an area with a previous injury or would like extra support.

Non-competitive swimming, including water aerobics, allows seniors to exercise even with physical restrictions, like the inability to walk without assistance. In addition, many pools have special devices to lower those needing assistance into the pool.

Other sports can benefit seniors, including cycling (indoors and outdoors), hiking, and walking.

Why seniors engage in sports activities

Studies were analyzed on why people perform sports (activities) and published in the Journal of Sports and Health Science. Those who perform activities alone, like swimming or biking, did so for the health benefits. However, those who perform activities such as golf and bowling did so for health benefits and as a means of social connecting.

The good news is that exercise is available for people of any age, shape, size, or ability. The best type of activity for seniors depends on your age, along with your medical or physical limitations. If there are no limitations, choose a sport or activity you enjoy since it increases the likelihood of participation.


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