We’re all encouraged to stay active and what better way to do that than playing a sport you absolutely enjoy. Maybe it’s one you played in your youth or something new and different.
As we age, it’s more important than ever to stay physically active and moving. Participating in a sporting event is a great way to accomplish this. However, you probably don’t want to do anything too strenuous or risk injury.
Popular sports for seniors are the ones which are fun to play and appropriate for your physical level. Benefits include keeping fit, being active and interacting with others. Some of the best activities include walking, swimming or other low impact activities.
With a lack of regular physical activity, agility and stamina decline. This can result in loss of muscle tone requiring extra effort to get back in shape. In fact, a sedentary lifestyle can lead to serious health issues such as heart disease, stroke or diabetes.
Keeping fit not only feels good, it can improve quality of life. All your muscles and joints remain more fluid and aren’t as prone to stiffening up. This in turn improves mobility and can minimize risks of falling.
Also, playing sports give you a reason to get up and moving. They’re fun and can often create a feeling of joy and youthfulness.
Another benefit is increased social interaction. Whether playing on a team or getting together with old / new friends, it creates a sense of belonging. This in turn can stave off depression or a sense of isolation.
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Health Benefits of Sports for Seniors
There are many benefits to staying physically active, especially as an older person. Ensuring you’re able to get around like you want and need could make your retirement years the best ones ever.
Now, you have the time to do all the things you dreamed about. It’s hard to explore or travel if your mobility is hindered in some way. Some of the benefits of regular movement are:
Movement shouldn’t be something you dread. It should be fun, engaging and a happy way to spend some time. So, a sport you enjoy is the perfect way to achieve this.
When you keep your body moving, you increase your chance of staying strong and healthy as you age. However, caution needs to be taken. None of us are getting any younger and the last thing anyone wants is getting injured.
1. Walking or Nordic Walking
By far, walking is the easiest exercise that almost everyone can do. Unlike running, walking is very low-impact and easy on the joints.
All you have to do is leave your house! It could be walking to get the mail or to the grocery store. Or it might be a walk with your significant other or a friend. And then there’s all the YouTubes where you can do walking routines in your home.
Becoming very popular is Nordic Walking. It involves using trekking poles which increase the areas you can safely traverse. This is particularly true for anyone with mobility concerns, reduced vision or balance problems.
With grips, handles and a variety of tips for different terrains it’s fun while giving you the added safety of something to hold on to.
Like walking, going for a bike ride can be fun and enjoyable. These days you could be riding the peddle bikes we did in our youth or maybe venturing onto an e-bike. Either way, it’s great exercise to keep you nimble and flexible.
When looking for popular sports for seniors, cycling is a great one to consider. It uses circular, smooth and steady movements which are less jarring to joints. It’s a great way to get outside and enjoy the outdoors as well.
During those winter months, a stationary bike can keep you fit and nimble. Then you’ll be in great shape for outdoor riding in the spring.
3. Swimming or Water Aerobics (Aquacise)
I don’t know about you however when I was a kid, I loved jumping in the lake and going for a swim. It was great fun and so relaxing being in the water with the sun shining down on you.
Swimming is a great activity for your entire body. All your muscles work together to propel you and keep you afloat. Water gives just enough resistance to push them harder and become stronger.
Also, water takes up to 90% of your body weight so the pressure on your joints is significantly reduced. With any pain reduced, it’s easier to tone the muscles supporting the joints. This makes you stronger and more agile.
There are a variety of water sports to choose from such as aquacise or water polo.
Some folks are absolutely passionate about golf. In fact, this is one of the most popular sports for seniors. A large part of the reason is it’s a great way to unwind and immerse yourself in nature.
Typically, the courses are gorgeous filled with lush fairways, manicured greens and water ways. In a sense, a wonderful way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Regardless of skill level, almost everyone enjoys an afternoon on the course.
Golf can be addictive. As a general rule, the more you play, the better you get. And, taking a few lessons can dramatically improve your game.
Another big factor is the social aspect. After a round of golf, it’s customary to relax in the clubhouse and swap stories of those incredible shots. Or, drown your sorrows and commiserate over a certain hole.
5. Yoga or Tai Chi
Yoga or tai chi are both sports that involve slow steady movements. No special equipment is required. Both help to improve hand-eye coordination as well as extend your range of motion.
There are many different positions from which these two activities can be performed – on the floor, standing or even sitting.
Because they’re so gentle, the meditative properties of yoga and tai chi may lead to increased relaxation. They could, also, lead to you having a better night’s sleep because of these techniques.
Tai Chi doesn’t fully extend or bend your joints like yoga does. It’s a more relaxed pursuit than yoga, however both are great for older adults. Again, both can be performed alone or in a group setting, whichever you prefer.
Dancing is just plain fun! Swaying to music you enjoy is a great way to be physically active while helping your body remain fluid and moving.
A lot of people may say dancing isn’t a sport. Well, aerobics is a cardio workout with dance steps set to music. So, just simply moving to a song (even if you don’t dance well) or finding a partner and really kicking up your heels is great for you.
And there’s a variety of types: country, Latin, line dancing, or whatever strikes your fancy. The important thing is to keep it fun and do it because you want to, not because you have to.
7. Racquet Sports
There are multiple racquet sports - tennis, badminton, racquetball or ping-pong. These can be played as a single or with a team mate. Either recreationally or in more competitive leagues and tournaments.
You’re moving around the court or back and forth across the table top all the while keeping your eye on the ball. If you playing in pairs, then you have to remain aware of your partner’s position and avoid a possible collision.
When I first heard the word “pickleball”, I was like what the heck is that?! As I found out, it’s a hybrid of tennis, ping-pong and badminton. Surprisingly, it was created in 1965 by US Congressman, Joel Pritchard.
It’s a net and ball game played at a slower pace than tennis on a smaller court. Like tennis, you can play as singles or doubles.
Lots of recreation centers offer games for anyone who wants to drop in as this is one of the most popular sports for seniors.
Bowling is a great activity for groups. This could be a family outing or gathering with some friends you haven’t seen in a while.
Grab a couple of lanes, bowl some sets and catch up on all the latest news. Of course, if you’re a passionate bowler, consider joining a league.
While hardly anyone thinks of bowling as exercise, it’s a great way to stay active. From swinging your arms to walking up to the alley and crouching to bowl.
For some extra adventure, some lanes have neon bowling which is done in darkened alleys. I’ve played and it’s a lot of fun. And a bit more challenging.
10. Lawn Bowling
For outdoor enthusiasts, lawn bowling might be just the ticket. It can be very social and ideal for seniors looking for fun and a low-impact activity. Unlike regular bowling, it’s generally free.
While playing out in the fresh air on a nice green lawn, you’re moving, having fun and not straining yourself too much. There are leagues who play regularly and organize tournaments.
This sport, again, is physical enough to get your entire body active. You’re throwing the “bowls” at a target and doing quite a bit of walking. As well as bending and lifting to pick up your bowls.
11. Bocce Ball
The classic Italian game of bocce ball is another excellent way to enjoy the outdoors.
Easy to learn, it's a ball tossing game with the objective of getting your ball closest to the “marker ball” or pallino. This requires some skill in calculating distance and force when tossing your ball.
It’s one of those sports which might be an ad hoc gathering in a local park or a more formal organized event. Other than having someone to play with, all that’s required is a set of bocce balls.
Almost timeless is the game of croquet. First played in France back in the 13th century, the objective is to knock your ball through a course of hoops with a mallet. While this might sound simple, it’s not as easy as it looks.
In fact, as a kid I spent hours playing croquet with my brother, sisters and cousins. Our lawn was far from perfectly manicured and on a slope. Inevitably a ball would roll away requiring one of those challenging uphill shots!
Croquet has continued to grow in popularity complete with international tournaments. In many respects, it’s the perfect game for seniors due to the social aspects and low-impact nature.
Another favorite is shuffleboard with tables found in many senior centers. The objective is getting your puck into the highest scoring zone without it falling off the end. Similar to curling, your opponent can “blow your puck” right off the table.
In addition, shuffleboard can also be played on a court. One of my favorite activities was playing on an upper deck of a cruise ship. However, there’s likely a local court nearby. Alternatively, you can buy a roll out court and play at home.
14. Pool or Billiards
Studies reveal regularly playing pool or billiards has numerous health benefits. These include:
More importantly, it’s downright fun and often gets competitive. Almost every senior facility has a pool table(s) and it’s usually where everyone congregates.
On a side note, challenging a senior to a friendly game usually doesn’t end well for me. They’re that good!
15. Walking Football (Soccer)
Walking football (soccer) is a variation for older adults where running isn’t allowed. This levels the playing field so everyone can participate with minimal risk of injury. It still is an excellent workout as some of those seniors really motor!
This is another one of those activities which promotes socialization. And due to the rules, mixed-sex teams are common. This creates the opportunity to play it with family or friends with everyone included.
Just like regular soccer, the rules are basically the same. However, one-foot needs to always remain on the ground (no running) and the ball kept below head level.
Originating in the UK in 2011, an estimated 40,000 Britons participate every week. On our side of the pond, the sport is also booming with widespread popularity.
16. Canoeing / Kayaking
Canoeing / kayaking provides both adventure and the opportunity to explore nature. There's also an almost therapeutic element to propelling yourself across serene waters. This in turn promotes a sense of calm and tranquility.
While not strenuous, paddling does work out the upper body. Not only is this a good way to keep physically active, it also enhances balance.
In recent years, the number of enthusiasts has soared and the kayaks have become more affordable. As such, there are many groups and clubs throughout the country.
Fishing is one of the popular sports for seniors and something most folks have tried at some point in their lives. It’s relaxing, yet exciting at the same time. I still remember the sheer delight of catching my first fish with my father!
There are many different types of fishing such as deep-sea or fly-fishing. Unless you live in the desert, there’s sure to be a fishing hole nearby.
Another opportunity could be taking a tour such as salmon fishing at Ketchikan (the world’s salmon capital).
There’re also many groups and even associations catering to older adults. One example is a bass fishing club for people 50 and older (Clearwater Senior Bass Club in Florida).
Another bonus, in some areas, anyone 65 or older may not require a fishing license.
Archery isn’t a sport one usually associates with seniors. Yet, it also has grown in popularity. This is a great activity developing upper body strength, concentration and good posture. Additionally, there’ll be plenty of walking to retrieve the arrows.
It’s fun to practice and see how close to the center you can get. With each subsequent shot, you’ll get better, stronger and have more success. You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment the first time you hit the bull’s eye.
There are some indoor archery courses which are available during inclement weather. However, being outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine might make you feel a little bit like Robin Hood.
Horseshoes is a game where the object is to throw the horseshoe and get it as close to a pole target as you can. It’s another sport that can be played individually or in teams.
It’s similar to a bean bag toss where you’re switching ends after everyone has finished their turn. Horseshoes is fun and, depending on the individuals, can get quite competitive.
My uncles and aunts would make up teams and their good-natured banter made it fun to participate.
20. Cross Country Skiing
If you happen to live where the snow flies, cross country skiing might be just the ticket. Widely accepted as the best cardiovascular workout known, cross country skiing also burns calories while strengthening the legs and arms.
Moreover, it’s a chance to enjoy the outdoors during the colder months. Many municipalities maintain ski trails in nearby parks. In addition, it’s highly probable there’s a local group you could join.
Another great winter sport is curling. You play with two teams of four on a rectangular pebbled sheet of ice with granite stones and scoring areas on either end called the house.
The goal is to slide the stone from one side to the other and get it as close to the center or “button” as you can. It’s very social and can get quite competitive.
Curling is an Olympic sport as well as having many leagues throughout the world who compete regularly. Locally, there are usually clubs that gather on a regular basis.
Closing Thoughts on Popular Sports for Seniors
The health benefits of staying fit and active cannot be over emphasized. We all tend to slow down with age and it’s critical to keep moving and engaged. This becomes increasing difficult when health issues or other ailments arise.
According to the CDC. older adults should have at least 150 minutes a week of moderate intense activity such as brisk walking.
The reality is most of us understand we need to exercise, yet it feels like a chore. Playing sports might be one of the best ways of countering this. Regardless of fitness level, there’s something for everyone.
The key is doing something which is fun and enjoyable. In most instances, this will be several different things to keep it interesting.
For instance, joining an aquacise class, a daily walk and golfing once a week. Such variety is beneficial and help fulfill physical, mental and social needs.
Finding and doing something you enjoy is key to keeping active and staying healthy.
At 66 and 67 my wife and I distance run (she ran a full marathon last year), walk, play team and recreational tennis, play pickleball, hike, bushwhack and fish. And we do most of those several times each week. You just have to keep moving!
You’re absolutely right about keeping moving, Steve. Sounds like you and your wife are in excellent shape and thoroughly enjoying your retirement.