Before you get all upset about kids spending too much time in front of a screen, think about where they’re learning it. A new report shows that older individuals who stay active not only have better health but have a better mental and cognitive state. Unfortunately, the number of adults who actually do get active is low.
And it’s not like there’s a lack of evidence. The American College of Sports Medicine, in a recent announcement, noted that considerable research has proven the benefits of various combinations of physical activity, such as progressive resistance training, multicomponent exercise, dual-task training, tai chi, yoga, and dance. Such activities are seen as key to preventing falls (which can have catastrophic consequences) and in general, staying mentally sharper.
Unfortunately, ACSM notes, the proportion of older adults meeting recommended physical activity guidelines remains low (27%).
So why is this? Sports events for senior athletes (defined as those 50 and up) continue to make enormous gains. Sports like pickleball, the demographic for which is decidedly senior, are on the grow. Unfortunately, plenty of fallacies persist. WebMD recently broke them down, including:
- Decline is inevitable
- Exercise is risky/I might fall and break something
- It’s too late to start
- It’ll hurt my joints
- I don’t have the time
- I’m too weak
- Can’t afford a gym membership
- Gyms are for the young
- I’d be embarrassed to have people see me
To bring in seniors, sports event owners need to help them overcome fear and self-consciousness. While it’s impossible to reverse an individual’s way of thinking, it’s not impossible to create a welcoming vibe that encourages people of all ages to feel comfortable. And when they do, it’s a win for everyone.
Some sports, such as table tennis and pickleball, have been actively marketing themselves to seniors, and enjoying participation surges as a result. Multi-sport events are also seeing incredible success. The National Senior Games Association (NSGA) brought 25,000 participants and visitors to their recent event in Albuquerque, along with 24,000 room nights and $34 million in economic impact. And it’s far from the only event that offers competitions for adults.
“Just [in Michigan], particularly with the senior demographic, we’re seeing that people are looking for more opportunities to compete,” says Eric Engelbarts II, CSEE, CTA, of the USA Masters Games. And, he notes, once individuals are retired, the opportunities to travel increase exponentially. “Here locally, our pickleball event is so big that we’re running 400 athletes over the course of four days. Our tennis is stable but pickleball is going like wildfire.”
The market itself is changing as well. Niche businesses that address fitness for seniors, such as Nifty After Fifty, offer clinically supervised full-body training programs. And while it’s not necessarily a sports event, it is a first step that can help individuals become comfortable with physical activity.
Much research has been done on the benefits of exercise, but only a few study in depth the factors that motivate seniors to exercise. One white paper, done at the graduate level for Bowling Green State University’s Department of Human Movement, Sports and Leisure Studies, does examine these factors, however.
The study found that in addition to providing the opportunity to compete, sports events often bring the chance to socialize with others; for that reason, the Senior Games host large-group athlete events – and many who travel together to compete will also set aside time to meet up with friends. And because many female athletes went to high school and college prior to the advent of Title IX, they became athletes later in life, and look at themselves as making up for lost time.
The bucket list aspect of sports is also a powerful motivator. Men and women often train for, and participate in, foot races – from 5Ks to marathons – to prove they are up to the challenge.
With the new year only three weeks away, it’s time to harness the power of the fitness resolution to boost seniors’ registration in sports events. And while the challenge will bring them in, keeping them there requires creating a welcoming vibe. Event directors recommend the following steps:
Recognize why individuals are registering: Is it to challenge themselves? To start on a weight loss or fitness regimen? To meet new people? To relive the sport(s) they enjoyed while in high school or college? To recapture their identity after children have moved away? All these aspects will fold into the type of marketing you do, and the type of activities offered.
Make it easier for participants to achieve their goals: Personal trainers who specialize in helping older individuals develop realistic exercise plans may want to offer introductory packages of services at a discounted rate in order to get people started. (Trainers whom seniors find relatable are often a good fit for this).
Create social hubs: If you can’t have a physical area (the Senior Games, for example, has an Athlete Village set up in their convention center), create list-serves, Facebook groups and other means to foster communication. Host a group activity such as a drop-in pickleball or tennis social, a pre-race pasta dinner or similar event designed to help new participants meet one another.
Harness the power of the New Year’s resolution: A new start can begin in the New Year – it doesn’t have to begin at midnight, and an event that takes place in the spring or summer can encourage individuals to start preparing now.