It’s well known that exercise is a key element to living a long and healthy life. According to a recent Harvard study, it can help with cholesterol levels, reduce the chances of having a heart attack, ward off dementia and other degenerative mental disorders, and even help prevent cancer.
But simply getting on a treadmill or exercise bike can become rote and boring. An active, engaging sports program can replace a traditional exercise program and actually offer more benefits than simply walking. The camaraderie of team sports and the competitive fires sparked by individual competitions will make exercise something to look forward to instead of something to dread.
One of the best sports for the elderly is golf. Even if you ride in a cart and only play nine holes, you’ll likely clock over 3,000 steps and burn upwards of 700 calories. The numbers get even better if you walk the course and use a pushcart to carry your clubs.
On top of the great exercise simply walking between golf shots provides, there are other benefits to swinging a golf club: the motion helps stretch muscles and ligaments, the balance required helps strengthen small stabiliser muscles, and the mental focus required helps increase blood flow to the brain.
Additionally, the desire to improve at golf may encourage older golfers to try their hand at yoga, tai chi, or pilates, all of which are workouts recommended for golfers that also improve circulation and flexibility.
Yoga, tai chi and pilates are excellent programs for seniors whether they’re golfers or not. While the movements are very low-impact, they still provide great strength and circulatory benefits. They’re also shown to help reduce depression by encouraging endorphin release. The meditative aspects of each of these prove to be quite addictive, so regular practice is easy to encourage.
Swimming and dancing are two other excellent sports for seniors to take up. Both can be social events that double as exercise. Whether you’re putting on a square dancing clinic or an underwater aerobics class, participation is likely to be high. Both pursuits are low-impact on fragile joints but provide great cardio exercise.
Zumba is a dance/exercise hybrid that’s become incredibly popular in recent years. Originally invented by a Colombian choreographer in the 1990s, it’s spread throughout the world and taken deep hold in the US over the past decade. It’s based around four basic South American rhythms and uses alternating fast and slow dance moves to achieve aerobic, cardio and muscle-toning benefits.
Zumba Gold-Toning is a variant specifically geared towards older participants. It focuses on muscle tone, posture, stability, and coordination, in addition to the great cardio exercise that all forms of Zumba provide.
Even seniors with very limited mobility have options these days. Really, anything fun to get them up on their feet is better than sitting on the couch all day.
The Nintendo Wii sports pack is a great way to encourage exercise, and Wii bowling and tennis both provide surprisingly good workouts and competition. They’re incredibly simple to pick up and play, requiring little-to-no knowledge of video games ahead of time.
Another great option for those is bags (or cornhole). While normally the boards are placed well apart, you can actually move them much closer together and still retain the fun of the game. It helps with arm strength and mental focus while keeping you on your feet and socially entertained for hours at a time.
And, finally, senior-rules seated volleyball is taking hold in some parts of the country. Played with a 20-inch beach ball and six players a side, it’s an entertaining social activity that, despite being played sitting down, really gets the heartbeat up.
Exercise is one of the most important parts of staying happy and vital into old age, and introducing sport into exercise is the best way to keep it interesting and fun. When it’s sport and not some rote exercise routine, participation is likely to jump and the benefits multiply.
Jordan Fuller is a golf expert and coach who started to play golf in the 1970s and pursued playing as a passion. He now regularly shares his knowledge about the sport online at www.golfinfluence.com.
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