The Important Role of Sport for the Elderly.

 A Dire Situation

Between now and 2029, the population over age 65 will increase from 13% of the population to 20%, growing 7 times faster than the rest of the population. We know that nearly two-thirds of that population currently doesn’t meet the minimum physical activity recommendation. It’s a recipe for disaster.

Every year around 3.2 million deaths are attributed to inactivity worldwide. Five of the top risk factors for death include smoking, high blood glucose, high blood pressure, obesity, and inactivity. A closer look reveals that 4 of the 5 are directly connected to physical activity.  Along with those risk factors, reduced bone density, balance, and muscle mass are contributors to life-threatening events like falls and bone breaks. At the same time, isolation and loneliness increase the likelihood of illness and death substantially.

A Simple Solution

The best way to combat the physical and mental challenges associated with aging is to encourage participation in group sports and activities. Most experts suggest 150 minutes of weekly intense activity for those aged 55 and above. A pickleball league, cycling group, or squash club are likely to eclipse that number easily and ensure a healthy, long, and fulfilling life for our aging populations. 

Unfortunately, as we age, we are less likely to introduce ourselves to new activities. Indeed, the most predictive factor in elderly sports participation is young adult sports participation. We need to invest in new and better ways of introducing sport to all members of the elderly population and ensure their access to age-modified activities. If we can successfully introduce sport to a quickly-growing elderly population, we can increase mental health, self-confidence, physical health, and life expectancy in significant ways. 

Modified Sport for Seniors 

One of the best ways to encourage seniors to engage in sport, is to offer familiar sports in modified formats. Modified sports allow seniors to enjoy their favorite competition, without requiring the pace and intensity of the traditional rules. Pickleball is a great example of a modification to tennis, but other modifications can simply be rule changes. For instance, soccer lovers could try some of the following: 

  • Matches last 60 minutes, rather than 90
  • A full team consists of seven players, rather than 11
  • Fields are cut in half
  • No running allowed, and no contact between players
  • There is no offside rule
  • The ball can’t go higher than 6 feet
  • Teams can make unlimited substitutions

There are tons of easy ways to adapt current sport programs to be senior-friendly. Feel free to reach out for recommendations!

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