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The benefits and risks of rediscovering your favorite sport

Playing a sport in our older years is great exercise. But before stepping onto a playing eld, make sure to address physical limitations.
Image: iStock

Competition is great for older adults, but don’t skip training camp before your season starts.

If you played baseball or any other competitive sport in your younger years, you may enjoy some physical and social benefits by resuming an old athletic pastime. But if you don’t want to get sidelined by injury, take some precautions before you join a new team, advises Alex Petruska, a senior physical therapist at the Sports Medicine Center of Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. “Instead of getting fit by playing sports, you should get fit first and then begin playing your chosen sport,” says Petruska.

How to get ready

In order to play sports safely, Petruska recommends you start working on some key aspects of fitness first, such as aerobic exercise (150 minutes per week), strength training (twice a week), stretching, and a healthy diet. If you’re unsure how to get started, consider joining a fitness center and getting some one-on-one advice from a trainer experienced in working with older adults. “It’s okay to play a particular sport or activity as long as you can do it safely, while avoiding bodily injury or harm,” says Petruska. “To participate in a higher-risk sport, you must have higher levels of physical fitness and skill development.”

Know your limitations

You probably don’t need a reminder that you may be a step or two slower than you were in your heyday. But you may have additional physical limitations that could affect whether you can or should resume a particular sport. “Underlying medical problems can affect exercise tolerance and safety,” Petruska says. “Consult with your doctor to be sure exercising is safe, especially at higher intensities.”

In particular, under-lying bone and joint injuries may limit exercise tolerance for high-impact sports. High-impact sports, which put additional wear and tear on the joints, include basketball, soccer, hockey, rugby, and even noncontact sports such as running. “Good sports for seniors include walking, jogging, biking, swimming, tennis, and golf,” Petruska says. “Moderate-risk sports include skiing, snowboarding, and parasailing.”

No matter what new sport or activity you want to try, it’s always a good idea to discuss it first with your doctor. Understand your limitations, if any, and learn the signs of trouble. Know what to do if you get light-headed or short of breath or feel an unusual pain in your joints, muscles, or chest.

Get in the game

Assuming your doctor gives you the okay for sports, how do you find more players like yourself? Start with your local parks and recreation department. Leagues or lessons may be available for seniors in a variety of sports.

And if your specialties are in track and field or other sports, look for running clubs or other programs in your community. An online search may lead to leagues you didn’t even know about right in your own town. You might also want to check out the National Senior Games Association (www.nsga.com), to learn about local, state, and national competitions in Olympic sports, such as track and field, swimming, and fencing, as well as activities such as racquetball, horseshoes, and golf. Athletes 50 and older are grouped by age, so you’d be competing with your peers.

Having real competition may help motivate you to work out a little harder and more consistently. “You can also develop new skills or maintain the skills you developed in the past,” says Petruska.

There are other pluses to playing on a team. Sports can lead to new friendships with people who share your interests. Socialization provides numerous mental and physical benefits for older adults. And if you don’t want to resume an old sport, try one you’ve never played before. Your glory days don’t have to be a thing of the past.

Move of the Month: Standing Quad stretch

After the game, stretch to keep your muscles long and supple, and less likely to suffer injury when you are on the playing field.

Stand up straight, feet together, holding the back of a chair with both hands.

Bend your right knee and reach back with your right hand to grasp your foot, lifting it toward
your right buttock.

Hold for 30 seconds.

Slowly lower your foot to the floor, then switch position so that your right hand is holding the back of the chair, and repeat the stretch with your left leg.

Posted by: Dr.Health

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