Americans are known around the world for our obsession with sports. Participating in sports is a way to bond with like-minded people. Or sometimes it’s just a good reason to have heated arguments about who’s the GOAT (greatest of all time, for those who don’t watch sports television all day).
But playing sports is also how many people stay in shape. But are you too old to be dribbling, swinging, or throwing balls around?
The short answer: No. Actually, there are a lot of reasons why playing a sport is exactly what you should do. Playing sports is fun, challenging, and a great way to meet new people. Plus, it can keep you in shape.
But before you pick up that ball, bat and glove, racquet, or set of clubs, make sure you’re picking the right sport for your body. That means first discussing any sports or exercise program with your physician before you start.
- Get a complete physical exam, which may include an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) or stress test to see how much activity your heart can handle.
- Make a list of questions for your physician, like what sports they recommend and how to participate in them safely.
- Learn how to check your heart rate, so you know when you should slow down and take it easy.
- Set realistic goals, and keep in mind that it may take time for your body to adapt to the new demands of playing a sport.
- Make it fun by choosing a sport that interests you, recruiting friends and family to join, and rewarding yourself for your accomplishments.
Ways to Set Yourself Up for Athletic Success
Here are 4 tips to help you begin playing a sport safely at any age — and a look at some of the sports you might want to consider.
1. Be Flexible — Literally
Making sure you stretch after you participate in a sport can prevent injuries, especially with sports that involve running, jumping and changing direction quickly.
Stretching can give you more freedom of movement, prevent stiffness as you age, and help you keep a full range of motion in your muscles and your joints.
This not only provides an overall feeling of wellbeing, but it also allows you to continue to perform everyday activities — like driving and getting dressed.
Stretching is an important part of activities like yoga and tai chi, but it should also be implemented while doing sports like swimming, tennis, cycling, and cross-country skiing.
2. Pick an Endurance-Building Sport
Your heart is all about love, so why not show it some in return? Aerobic (also called endurance) sports use your large muscle groups — those in your chest, legs, and back — to get your heart rate and breathing up. Water aerobics, swimming, tennis, cycling, and cross-country skiing can all have aerobic benefits.
You’ll know you’re doing an aerobic activity if you’re working so hard that you feel winded trying to have a long chat during or immediately afterward. The most important benefit of increasing your heart rate and breathing is that you’re making your heart and lungs work harder than they would at rest. Eventually, they’ll get stronger and more effective at pumping oxygen out to your body as a result.
Putting your heart and lungs to work can also help lower high cholesterol, blood pressure, and body weight. If left unmanaged, these issues can increase your risk of complications such as heart attack and stroke.
Aerobic exercise can also reduce blood sugar levels, which can help lower your risk of developing diabetes or manage your existing diabetes.
3. Work Out Your Brain and Your Body
Competitive sports require you to focus. Whether you need to pay attention to the tennis ball or the form of your swim stroke, your brain is getting just as much exercise as your body. Even a seemingly quieter sport like golf can be mentally demanding and require your brain to put in some work.
Sports can also reduce stress levels, which can improve your overall mental health, reduce anxiety, and boost your overall sense of wellbeing.
4. Take It Slow, and Keep It Gentle
Choose a sport that will be gentle on your body. If you’ve broken a bone or are at a higher risk of doing so because of osteoporosis, you may need to avoid high-impact sports like tennis, boxing, basketball, or hiking. Instead, consider low-impact sports like biking or rowing, which can all help strengthen bones and the surrounding muscles.
Low-impact sports are a safer alternative, and they can have just as many benefits. Water-based sports — like swimming and water aerobics — have the same benefits as their land-based counterparts, but with fewer risks of injury.
No matter what sport you choose, be sure to check with your physician first and listen to your body. Remember, this is about health, not competition.