Sports: The Anti-Aging Drug

If you want to know the secret to youth and vitality, look to masters athletes for some answers. They engage and play sports. Sports are a fantastic way to get exercise and activity as well as connect socially with friends. Sports are the anti-aging drug we are all looking for. Why should you play sports? What if I can’t play my sport anymore because of injury? We’ve got you covered.

Benefits of sport participation as we age

Balanced Physical Activity Diet

Sports are so great because of the many aspects of fitness and health that they address. As I mentioned in this blog, the ACSM has 5 pillars of fitness they recommend that everyone get into their physical ‘diet’ so to speak. They are:

  • Resistance (anaerobic) conditioning
  • Aerobic (cardio) conditioning
  • Balance
  • Agility/Quickness/Neuromuscular coordination
  • Flexibility/Mobility

In looking at this list you can see that sport participation crosses many of these disciplines. For example, someone who plays basketball will get the benefits of aerobic conditioning as they run up and down the court. They will be challenging their ability to start, stop, change direction, fake out an opponent, and dribble the ball and shoot the ball (all agility/quickness/neuromuscular coordination). There will be a component of balance since you have to run, and jump. It has been my experience that if you put a sporting implement (ball) in someone’s hands or feet they will work harder and have more fun doing it. Sports are fun! They are also an effective way to cover many of the pillars of fitness at once. We all love to be effective.

Stay Fast and StrongĀ older-golf-couple

Another crucial benefit of sport participation is moving quickly and explosively. This type of movement is done primarily by the fast-twitch muscle fibers (Type II), which are also the types of muscle fibers that we preferentially start to lose or lose connection with as we age. This age-related lose of muscle is called sarcopenia. You can do something about it-you’ve got to use it! The adage is true-if you don’t use it-you lose it. Many of the age-related symptoms of movement has to deal with the inability to create force and power (aka use those fast-twitch muscles). In this regard, sports act as an anti-aging pill. It helps you keep or slow down the rate of fast-twitch muscle lose and gives you a more ‘balanced diet’ of activity as shown above.

Mental Acuity

It has also been my experience that those who regularly engage in sporting activities over a lifetime have greater mental clarity/acuity and ability to process information as they age. Their minds are sharp. Sport participation has been shown to help ‘beat the aging odds’ [O’Brien, Sandra J., and Patricia R. Conger. “No time to look back: Approaching the finish line of life’s course.” The International Journal of Aging and Human Development 33.1 (1991): 75-87.]

Lifelong Sport Activity

As we age, our bodies change and get banged up from a lifetime of movement and activity. Inevitably you will be faced with a big decision-do I continue to play my sport, stop all activity or find a sport that I can continue to play and enjoy. If you want to continue your sport you may do well to consult a fitness coach or strength coach to evaluate if you can modify your play without doing more damage. However, sometimes a change in sport becomes necessary due to an injury or other issue. Identify the elements you love or the elements you need to most work on (IE balance, social engagement, reaction, winning, accomplishment, etc). If you have balance problems and are falling when walking/running, maybe a water-based activity could reduce that risk. Or if your shoulders won’t let you serve overhead in tennis you could change your serve or take up racquetball.

If you have temporarily stopped playing sports, start again. We can help you get back into shape to play your sport, or help you address some deficiencies you may have that are affecting your game.