With the conclusion of the Summer Olympics last month, there is an opportunity to reflect on the accomplishments and physical prowess of the athletes who competed. Sports and wellness are important for the human body especially given the decreasing participation rates in physical activity and increasing rates of chronic disease worldwide.
While the benefits of regular participation in physical activity on both physical and mental health have been widely established, participation rates remain low among older adults. It has been shown that participation in organized sports typically peaks in early adulthood and steadily decreases as a person ages. In addition, when viewed in light of gender, men typically report higher levels of participation in sport compared to women, regardless of age.
In Australia, the participation rate in organized sports among older adults is estimated at around 6.8 percent for males aged 55 to 64 and 8.9 percent among females 55-64. Among men 65 and older, participation in sport is estimated around 9.1 percent for men and 8.9 percent for women. Though rates are low, the benefits of regular participation in sports for older adults have been identified. In a 2012 cohort study, it was shown that older adults who participated in popular organized sports experienced a 20-40 percent reduction in all-cause mortality compared with older adults who did not participate in sports. Social benefits of participation in organized sports also include decreased feelings of isolation and reports of stronger support systems, two important contributors to quality of life in older adults.
The benefits of participation in organized sports are many, however, it is important to address potential barriers that might prevent an older adult from getting involved. While one third of older adults who report they are physically active are participating in organized sports in some form, older adults who are not commonly report lack of time, lack of opportunity, and physical limitations as reasons why they do not. It has been acknowledged within Australia that creating more opportunities for older adults to participate in organized sports through targeted programming should be a priority.
There is an opportunity to engage older adults both physically and socially through organized sports. Perceived barriers should be addressed to make physical activity through organized sports accessible to older adults.
Diana Kingsbury is a doctoral student and Graduate Assistant in Prevention Science at Kent State University College of Public Health.