Sports are an excellent way to exercise and make new friends. And since you’re having fun, it doesn’t feel like work. While you’re focused on winning or competing, you’ll burn calories, strengthen muscles, and most importantly, have a blast! But as we age, some sports, including high-contact sports such as football and rugby, stop being so healthy for us. While they may be exercise-intensive, when you reach a certain age, it may be smart to hang up your shoulder pads and helmet and take up a different activity. Luckily, there are many other fun and competitive sports that can be perfect for seniors!
There are many games and exercises out there that some may consider a sport. So, what are we counting as a sport in this article? We’ll be using the Cambridge Dictionary definition: “a game, competition, or similar activity, done for enjoyment or as a job, that takes physical effort and skill and is played or done by following particular rules.” With this in mind, we won’t be discussing running (like in a marathon), bicycling, or swimming, primarily because we’ve already covered all of those individually. We also won’t be mentioning golf, since we’ve also written about that on its own.
The sports below are primarily games in which one player or team competes against another and participants follow a specific set of rules. To make this article, the sports needed to provide a good work out, consist of low-to-medium contact, and offer the ability to scale its physical activity and contact level based on your fitness and health.
Tennis is the first on our list because it epitomizes what we’re looking for in healthy and competitive senior sports. It’s a no-contact sport, which lowers your chances of getting hurt. In fact, the chance of even an accidental collision seems pretty low, since opponents are separated by a net.
Tennis is excellent for seniors who aren’t in great shape, since they may be able to more easily keep up with opponents of differing fitness levels.
Like golf, tennis is more of a game of technique over physique. The more skilled player can overcome a fitter opponent through sheer ability. This makes it excellent for seniors who aren’t in great shape, since they may be able to more easily keep up with opponents of differing fitness levels. This checks off our other two factors of a healthy senior sport — it provides a work out, but you can scale it based on what you can handle.
To us, it’s no surprise that the International Tennis Federation has its own senior division and even a Super-Seniors ranking. If you don’t want to play professionally, you can also take tennis lessons, which allow beginners to pick up the sport and ease into it. You can also look for a senior tennis league at your local YMCA or sports complex.
The next sport that’s popular with many seniors around the world is soccer, known as “football” in many other countries. Soccer is a bit of a step-up from tennis for senior fitness, since there’s a higher chance you may come into contact with another player. That said, it’s also possible to have a low-contact or nearly no-contact soccer game, depending on the league’s rules and the intensity that the game is played at.
Soccer can help seniors “maintain an active lifestyle and mitigate a wide array of physical and physiological age-related changes.”
Science has even begun to back the benefits of soccer for seniors. One study from 2014 found that playing soccer can have significant benefits for older players. The 26 participants, ages 63 to 70, saw improvements to their endurance, muscle function, and fitness. The fact that soccer may have these health benefits is also backed up by previous studies by the same group and 2018 review of research into this topic. This review concluded that soccer should “be considered an alternative exercise modality for untrained, healthy or unhealthy middle-aged and older adults of both sexes to maintain an active lifestyle and mitigate a wide array of physical and physiological age-related changes.”
If you’re interested, many areas have over-60 and senior soccer leagues that allow you to find a team or create one with friends. A quick Google search of “over-60 soccer league [your area]” may show you promising results. Like for tennis — and for the next sport we’ll discuss — local sports complexes, community centers, or YMCAs often have soccer leagues or pickup soccer groups.
Another popular sport that’s similar to soccer is basketball. Basketball is another low-to-medium-contact sport that allows you to go at your own pace. In fact, walking basketball is a popular way to get exercise in while having fun and without pushing yourself, or other players, too hard. Stories of senior basketball teams uniting a group of local retirees for a little fun and exercise is surprisingly common.
There are also popular forms of basketball games that require less movement and no contact, like HORSE.
There are a few other advantages to playing basketball that make it uniquely beneficial for seniors, especially those that wish to ease their way into fitness. First, basketball can easily be enjoyed on your own by just shooting hoops and trying to see how many you can make. This can make it easier to play, since you don’t have to rely on an opposing team or player to be available. There are also popular forms of basketball games that require less movement and no contact. HORSE, for example, is a two+ player game where one player takes a shot, and if they make it, the other must replicate it. If you fail to replicate a shot, then you gain a letter. First player to spell HORSE loses.
Like the other suggestions on this list, basketball is easy to pick up and play. All you need is a ball and a hoop. Many local parks and cities have public courts that you can use for free. A lot of larger gyms or YMCAs also have courts available for members.
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The purpose of this article is to prove that, even if you’re receiving Medicare, it doesn’t mean your sporting days have to be over. People of any age, fitness level, and skill level can find a sport that fits them and helps them exercise while having fun. As long as you check with your doctor to make sure you’re healthy enough to start playing, we say, “Get out and play!”