Competitive recreational athletics were once considered an activity for high school and college students. Players on professional sports teams would retire either before or soon after they turned 40. There just were not any opportunities to be competitive after 50, except maybe a bowling league or a softball team. That has all changed. People are not only living longer, but staying active longer. In fact, many people don’t even begin exercising and moving on to competition until later in life. Competition is very possible as we age, but it does require smart training and paying attention to detail.
Many of us never got involved with sports or regular physical exercise, then find ourselves over 50 and wish we had. We can look at our senior years as a second chance. Our younger years were spent making a living and raising a family. There is usually more time and energy for physical activities after the children are grown. Everyone knows that exercise allows us to live, if not longer, at least better quality lives. Starting a regular exercise program is always a good idea. It can even help with “Empty Nest’ anxiety. It allows us to have more strength and endurance for everything. Rediscovering the joy of being in motion often leads to thinking about new goals and challenges.
Exercise alone isn’t enough if we are wanting to be athletic. Since we don’t heal and recover as quickly as when we were 25, preventive measures become more important. Regular massage and stretching will minimize soreness and keep us flexible. Proper well fitting shoes and socks will help to avoid knee and foot problems. Insuring that we eat a good clean diet without a lot of added sugars and chemicals will help with recovery from hard workouts. Where once a minor injury might have meant a few days of taking it easy, now can mean losing a month or more of training. Learning to understand how our body reacts to the stress of training and how much recovery time it needs are the keys to being a successful senior competitor. Research is very limited when it comes to senior level athletes, so we are often learning as we go.
What is available for older athletes? There are U.S.A.Track and Field (USATF) competitions at the regional and national level for all the track and field sports. At the state and national senior games, there are 29 different sports contested in age group categories. There is plenty of competition for the athlete that wants to test him or herself against other senior competitors. Most walk, run, swim and bike events have age group awards. There are also plenty of challenges for an older athlete to test themselves against different distances. Runners and walkers have events available even past the marathon’s 26.2 miles. There are several ultras of various distances that offer a desirable finishers prize, like a medal or belt buckle. Bikers, as well, have long distance events with nice bragging rights awards for finishers. The athlete that chooses hiking has trail events of various distances and difficultly.
Whatever challenges you choose to pursue, it’s important to do some planning and preparation. Start with a visit to your doctor. Discuss your plans to become more active. After the doctor gives you a check up and their blessing, visit a store that specializes in the sport or activity that you are interested in. A store that has employees trained in fitting you properly for a running, walking or hiking shoe can save you a lot of problems later on. Most cities will have a club for participation and promotion of the various activities. They can be a wealth of knowledge and information about local events. You might be surprised that there are other seniors that are just starting out. It’s not just for the guys either. It fact, you will often find more women, of all ages, than men at the races and events.
There is nothing wrong with 30 minutes to an hour of regular exercise three to five times a week. It will help you have a better quality of life during your senior years. But if you desire a little more excitement, there are a lot of opportunities. Chasing dreams and going the distance can still be part of your “Golden Years”. You just have to want it.
It’s not just a step, it’s a start.