More than ever, seniors are discovering the athlete within. Since the early 1990s, total participation (and participation by those over age 45) has grown in 21 sports and fitness activities. Note that these sports aren't for sissies: basketball, bowling, mountain and rock climbing, walking, exercise with equipment, running and jogging, working out at a club, tackle football, golf, hiking, hunting with firearms, ice hockey, in-line skating, kayaking and rafting, martial arts, skateboarding, snorkeling, snowboarding, soccer, target shooting with firearms and waterskiing.
And even though participation by Americans as a whole declined in the following 13 activities, the number of participants over age 45 grew: badminton, baseball, bicycle riding, canoeing, touch football, ice and figure skating, racquetball, scuba diving, alpine skiing, softball, swimming, table tennis and tennis. (I am one of those statistics; I began playing competitive tennis at age 55 and love the sport and my new friends.)
Clearly, there is no single best exercise. The best activities are simply those that a person will do. For some, exercising means a swim at the local community center. For seniors confined at home, chair dancing videos may be the answer. For others, a daily walk (and talk) with a girlfriend will promote fitness. T'ai chi may be helpful for those with arthritis.
And although they might choose different ways to express their passion for their favorite exercise, active seniors are practicing the FIT philosophy:
F: Fun. Seniors are having fun with exercise, whether the activity involves exergaming or taking an outdoor walk to enjoy fall colors.
I: Individualization. Because bodies change with age, seniors are making the necessary adjustments and accommodations so that exercise is safe, rewarding and free of pain.
T: Togetherness. Seniors are teaming up with others to exercise on a regular basis because they know that relationships strengthen the commitment to get and stay fit.
Although seniors may vary in their fitness goals, maintaining an independent lifestyle through achieving a high level of functional fitness is a common concern for many. (Functional fitness, by the way, is a term used to describe our ability to accomplish the routine tasks of living—getting in and out of an automobile, folding and carrying laundry, lifting a bag of groceries and so on.) Reducing the cost of medications for medical conditions (for example, diabetes and high blood pressure) through changes in diet and exercise is the focus for others.
Family and friends play a role in encouraging a healthy lifestyle for seniors, but anyone promoting fitness must walk the talk: actions always speak louder than words. We cannot avoid being an example to others—sometimes a good one, sometimes not such a good one. Whatever a person's age, making a lifelong commitment to fitness and delighting in its myriad benefits is the most powerful action anyone can take.
Photo courtesy of Sanja Gjenero