The Benefits of Playing Lifetime Sports

Woman in sweaty tank top - lifetime sports
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Lifetime sports are those you can play for, well, your whole life. Finding a sport you enjoy is one of the keys to exercise adherence, otherwise known as sticking with it once you start. And you can't win, or reap all the physical and mental health benefits of sports, if you don't keep playing.

It's much easier to find the time (and money) for exercise when it's also a fun pastime—even a passion. "While visions of improved health and fitness—not to mention looking and feeling great—can get most of us started on an exercise program, they're notoriously weak motivators over the long haul," writes exercise physiologist Bob Hopper, author of Stick with Exercise for a Lifetime: How to Enjoy Every Minute of It!. Instead, he argues, if you "pursue a physical activity program with the goal of having fun, learning new skills, and improving performance," better health and fitness will come along as "natural byproducts."

Physical Activity Guidelines

To reap the benefits of physical activity, adults, including those over 65 years old should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, 5 days a week (or just 20 minutes of vigorous exercise, 3 days a week). Incorporate strength training at least twice a week.

What Makes a Sport a Lifetime Sport?

Tennis, golf, swimming, track and field, and many other sports have "masters" or "seniors" divisions that allow athletes to compete at top levels well into adulthood. But of course, there's no need to participate in competitions to play your favorite sports (unless you want to!). And there's no need to stick stubbornly with a sport you once loved if it no longer fits well into your life. There are more options out there, so keep looking.​

Just about any sport could be a lifetime sport for the right person. But if you're starting a little later in life, some sports are too risky to be a good bet. In contact or high-impact sports, "lifetime" status is less likely because of the higher risk of both traumatic and overuse injuries.

It may be a stereotype, but there is a reason why sports such as walking, yoga, and water exercise are popular as lifetime sports. They are simple to pick up and don't require a ton of equipment. You can walk at your own pace and on your own schedule. You can participate in water exercise anywhere you have access to a pool, although being enrolled in a class is usually helpful. Water exercise is easy on the joints. Yoga can help you preserve flexibility, and there is a huge spectrum of yoga styles and options for classes. A restorative class is slow and gentle, with lots of props to help you get into poses, while a power class will include cardiovascular effort.

For lower risk options (there's no such thing as no risk), consider these lifetime-friendly sports:

  • Walking or hiking (indoor options include the track at a gym or even shopping mall walking)
  • Swimming or water aerobics
  • Golf or disc golf
  • Yoga or Pilates
  • Ballroom or Middle Eastern dance
  • Tennis and other racquet sports, like pickleball
  • Bicycling
  • Bowling, curling, or bocce ball
  • Canoeing and other paddle sports
  • Martial arts, especially tai chi
  • Skiing, cross-country skiing, or snowshoeing
  • In-line skating or ice skating
  • Sailing

3 Ways to Enjoy Lifetime Sports More

No matter what sport you choose (and remember, you can keep trying new ones!), Hopper recommends a couple of strategies to help you love it.

  1. Work with a coach, since learning new skills is energizing.
  2. Join a team or pair up with a friend when you play your sport.
  3. Take it slow and steady so you don't burn out. 

"You may start out thrilled with your new exercise program and decide to block out time for it every day," Hopper writes. "Resist that temptation. The most successful programs seldom develop that way. ...Most long-term success comes from starting small, experiencing success, and building slowly on that success."

It's never too late to start! It doesn't matter whether you are trying to help your child settle on a sport, or you are a young adult looking to create a path toward lifelong fitness, or you're an older adult trying to start or restart a fitness practice. There is a sport out there for you.

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