As we get older we are constantly being encouraged to take more exercise to improve or simply maintain our overall health. Exercise is great for your mental as well as your physical well-being and it is important to stay active.
However, the types of activities that older people are generally directed toward tend to be the more individual forms of exercise, things like walking, cycling, swimming, yoga, tai chi, etc. These are all terrific exercise and, of course, you don’t necessarily have to do them on your own – you could go out with friends or join a class. But what if you’re the type of person who enjoys a bit of friendly competition or perhaps you long for the camaraderie of being part of a team.
Well the good news is that more and more competitive sports are opening up to older participants. With a few simple adaptations almost any competitive sport can be made suitable for the more “seasoned” performer.
Walk Don’t Run
There are lots of different types of modified sport out there for older adults but by far the most popular are sports that replace running with walking.
Walking football was the first of these. The idea started in the UK around 2011 and quickly spread. There are now hundreds of walking football clubs and organisations all over the country.
Walking football is very similar to regular football but with the obvious distinction that no running is allowed. There are also some restrictions on tackling and the height which the ball can leave the ground. Games are often played on artificial grass pitches which reduce the chance of pain, discomfort and injury. Advocates of walking football say that far from diminishing the sport, the absence of running actually enhances the game by placing a greater emphasis on skill and tactics.
Other walking sports quickly followed football with walking versions of rugby, netball, basketball and tennis popping up. There are now walking sports clubs all over the UK and national organisations which offer advice and support for anyone wishing to get into the sport or start a local team or league.
Open to Everyone
The great thing about competitive sports that have been specially adapted for older participants is that they have been designed to make them accessible for players of all levels of skill, physical ability and experience.
Some of the larger clubs offer separate teams for different levels of ability from beginners to advanced.
Most clubs are either unisex or have both men’s and women’s teams available to join.
In most cases the element of competition is very friendly and the emphasis is squarely on getting together and having fun!
The benefits of taking part in regular exercise are well documented. Not only does exercise enhance your overall health – strengthening your heart, lungs, muscles, joints, improving balance, bone density, cognition it also reduces your risk of dozens of common illnesses including heart disease, stroke and some cancers. If you could put all the benefits of exercise in a pill you’d take certainly take one every day.
But the benefits of exercise go way beyond the physical, the impact on mental health is often the thing that most older people who participate in regular exercise site as the biggest advantage.
There are dozens of scientific studies that demonstrate the mental health benefits of regular activity. And several studies have shown that participating in team sports is even better for your mental health than solo sports.
There’s also the social aspect to enjoy. The word that so many participants use is “camaraderie” – that sense of a shared effort and the feeling of belonging that comes from being part of a team.
For some it’s a chance to reconnect with a sport they enjoyed in their youth, for others it’s an opportunity to try something new. But for everyone it’s a chance to get together, have fun and make some new friends.
If you’re interested in getting involved in a competitive sport you can find out what’s available in your area by searching online or contacting the sports governing body.
Give it a go, who knows you might even find yourself getting called up for the national team!
Further reading: 60+ Benefits of Exercise – The Ultimate List