The Best Sports for Seniors (Low Impact But Competitive Activities for Elderly)

The best sports for seniors are those that keep seniors active, allow them to express their competitive side but are also low impact with low injury risk.

senior man with a soccer ball in his hand
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Even as little kids, we are taught about the benefits of keeping active and exercising. And, it’s easy to think that sports and exercise are only possible when you’re younger. Maybe you think taking up a new sport isn’t as beneficial when you’ve got some years on you. That couldn’t be further from the truth!

There are many sports activities for seniors which have tremendous health benefits but also have low impact on your body. There are even competitive sports for older adults and you can enter different tournaments or competitions.

So, what are some of the best sports for seniors to consider?

First, let’s take a look at the benefits of sports for seniors and the elderly in general.

Benefits of Sports for Seniors and the Elderly

Unfortunately, many seniors spend a lot of their time sitting or lying down. This, combined with the fact that the human body naturally loses muscle mass after the age of 50, can be harmful to our health (source: Harvard).

Dangers of Losing Muscle Mass

A lack of physical activity accelerates the loss of muscle and strength, making it much more likely to develop aches and soreness in different parts of your body.

As a result of this loss of muscle mass, many seniors also have a higher risk of falling. This can be very detrimental both to the health and morale of a senior. Feeling unstable and insecure can make seniors feel afraid of getting up and around the house. So, they spend more time in their bed or recliners instead of being active.

Activity and Exercise Maintains Muscle Mass

Staying active, on the other hand, counters the natural effects of the aging process on your muscles. Having stronger muscles will make it easier for you to properly support the rest of your body.

Exercising can be a wonderful solution, since increasing muscle mass and strength makes it easier to avoid falls, and recovering from a fall if the need arises. Seniors who exercise feel a lot more comfortable and secure in their movements, which gives them more freedom and confidence.

Other Benefits to Sports Activities

Scientific research has proven that there are many other benefits of sports for elderly people. These benefits include, but are not limited to:

  • Lowers the risk of obesity and heart disease.
  • Reduces stress and improve overall mood.
  • Lowers cholesterol levels.
  • Reducing the risk of depression through social interaction and a greater sense of independence.
  • Improves symptoms of osteoporosis.Improves your immune system.

Have You Talked With Your Doctor?

You should discuss any sudden change in your activity level with your doctor first. They know your personal health and may be able to help with a recommendation.

How to Choose a Sport (Based on Your Mobility & Health)

So, are you interested in trying out a new sport? That’s great!

When it comes to choosing a sport, there are several factors that you need to keep in mind. Each sport has different requirements and finding the right fit for you is fundamental. Otherwise, you might have a harder time getting into the sport. Or, you might increase your risk of injury.

Discuss It With Your Doctor

If possible, talk to your doctor or find a sports medicine doctor that can guide you through this process. They will be able to correctly asses your physical condition and recommend the best sports for seniors.

Some sports, such as tennis or squash, are not recommended you have certain degenerative conditions because they can injure your joints. Other sports, such as running, could put too much pressure on your heart. 

Ease Into It

Regardless of the sport you choose, always remember to ease into your training. Training too hard, too fast is easiest way to get injured.

  • Gradually increase the intensity and length of your workouts as your physical condition improves.
  • Wear appropriate shoes when you’re working out. Shoes that fit properly and offer good support will help you avoid injuries and post-training soreness.
  • Wear the right apparel to help you with temperature regulation.
  • Buy and use any safety gear available for the sport you choose.
  • Always remember to drink enough water or even a sports drink during, and after your training sessions.

Competitive Sports for Older Adults

Golf

senior couple playing golf together

Golf offers a relatively low-impact workout and it’s also a great exercise for your mind. Why is that? Because it involves a great deal of planning, memorization, and coordination.

You will also be doing plenty of walking from one spot to the next which will also provide calm but necessary cardio exercise. If you enjoy golf but can’t walk these distances, most golf courses offer motorized golf carts. But, carrying your own golf clubs will strengthen your muscles.

You can compete in golf tournaments at any age and many local courses offer tournaments which are open to many age categories. If you are a competitive person and enjoy this sport, these tournaments could offer a great workout and a wonderful opportunity to socialize with friends.

Check out my golf guide for seniors for more information.

Water Sports

senior couple in a pool

There are many sports that can be carried out inside a pool, besides swimming. Water sports provide relief for a number of diseases, such as arthritis, asthma, and other respiratory illnesses.

Water sports are among the best sports for seniors, since the water provides resistance to make your muscles stronger while still being a low-impact sport. There are many water sports that have special competitions for elderly people. Some of these sports include swimming, water polo, and even synchronized swimming!  These are definitely some of the best competitive sports for older adults.

If you are interested in practicing a water sport, go to your local pool and ask about classes and team sports available to you. And if you don’t have any swimming experience, don’t despair! You simply need to find an instructor who teaches beginners and you’ll soon start to see improvements in your performance.

Archery

senior man aiming a bow and arrow

Have you ever considered taking up archery?

It might sound like an unusual alternative, but archery is another great option. If you have an archery field nearby (or even a big back yard), this sport can do wonders for your upper body strength and flexibility. Archery will also get you off your feet and out into the sunshine.

Finding the right equipment and instructor is vital, since incorrect movements can turn into painful injuries. As long as you take your time and ease into this sport, you can reap its many wonderful health benefits!

Archery is also great for your cognitive skills, since it requires precise movements and lots of hand-eye coordination. As your shots improve, you might want to enter archery tournaments to take on a bigger challenge.

Running

senior ladies running through the park

Running is contraindicated for some seniors, especially those with heart conditions or arthritis. However, if you are a healthy senior and your doctor gives you the green light, running offers many great health benefits. 

Running is one of the best cardio sports and it is a wonderful way to strengthen the muscles in your lower body.

Always make sure to wear the proper footwear for seniors and avoid running in extreme temperatures. It is usually easy to find running clubs, where you will be able to meet new people, socialize, and find encouragement for your new outdoor hobby.

Cycling

senior couple riding their bicycles

Cycling offers benefits similar to those of running; however, it is easier on your joints. Again, you should check with your doctor before taking up this sport.

You will also need to make sure to use appropriate equipment to avoid overexertion and injuries.

Just like with running, you will probably be able to find a cycling club near you, where you can find new friends who will help you progress in this discipline.

Cycling is also a great option when you need to move around town to run errands. As long as you make sure not to overexert yourself, you can incorporate a workout into your daily routine.

Check out my guide to the best three wheel bikes for seniors for more information.

Winter Sports

senior couple enjoying some cross country skiing

If you live in a place with snowy winters and you are fit, skiing might be another great option for you.

This discipline provides a full-body workout, and beginner classes are usually available at most skiing centers. Regardless of your experience level, make sure to wear the appropriate protective gear, since skiing accidents can be very harmful.

Even skiing over lower surfaces like cross-country skiing will provide many benefits.

Low Impact Sports for Seniors

Nordic Walking

senior couple on a nordic walk with walking sticks

This sport is more intense than regular walking, and thus, offers greater cardiovascular benefits.

Using specially-designed walking poles, athletes use their upper bodies to propel themselves forward while they walk through city or countryside.

Nordic walking offers a low-impact full body workout that will improve your physical condition in no time. It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner; simply find a group of people who practice this sport in order to learn how to do it yourself and have company during your workouts.

Lawn Bowling or Croquet

senior friends playing croquet in the back yard

These sports offer low-impact alternatives that you can practice in your home or that of a friend –as long as they have a big yard. They also create a wonderful opportunity to create a new club and socialize with your friends and acquaintances.

You can practice these disciplines at any age, and you can play for fun or join competitive leagues for seniors.

As long as you have a large enough space, you can turn any weekend into a time for fitness and fun with your friends.

Walking Soccer

senior playing soccer with the family

This sport is a variation of regular soccer meant for people over the age of 50 years old, or people with limited mobility.

The rules are very similar to those of normal soccer, except for one: no running. Players are only allowed to walk during the game, making this a great low impact sport for seniors.

You will still work on your cardiovascular health and coordination, without overexerting your body.

Try your local soccer club to find out if they offer walking soccer classes, or find some friends to start your own!

Sport Activities for Elderly (That Require the Least Effort)

Yoga

seniors doing yoga

The many benefits of yoga have been known for thousands of years.

This discipline is great for your flexibility, strengthens your joints, and can even relieve anxiety.

Yoga is one of the best and most popular low impact sports for seniors, and you can find many groups devoted to practicing this sport. You can even practice yoga from a wheelchair.

Once you have the basics down, you can even perform certain routines at home. You can usually find yoga classes in a variety of places, from sunny parks to indoor locations during the winter or when it’s raining.

Video Games

senior couple playing video games

If you think that video games are only for teenagers and don’t offer any health benefits, think again! These days, you can find many video games that require you to perform a certain level of physical activity in order to play them.

Some of the best examples include Wii Bowling or Wii Tennis. You can practice these games from the comfort of your own living room, or even challenge your grandkids to a playful round of Wii!

If you don’t own a console, many libraries or game centers offer access to these games. 

Wii and other interactive videogames will provide you with a simple, full-body workout that will get you on your feet and moving. They offer many health benefits, strengthening your joints, muscles, and cardiovascular system at the same time.

Additionally, these games require a high level of coordination and concentration. This means that they will also improve your cognitive skills without you even realizing!

So don’t be afraid to try something new, and give video games a chance.

Aerobics

seniors in aerobic class

Aerobics provide another alternative to seniors who can’t undertake more strenuous sports.

Many gyms offer aerobics classes customized for seniors and/or beginners. This discipline offers many cardiovascular benefits, and they also provide a great time to socialize.

If you suffer from arthritis or have chronic pain that doesn’t allow you to practice this activity, water aerobics can also be an alternative for you.

If you are thinking of joining an aerobics class, remember to wear appropriate footwear, and don’t overexert yourself. Instead, join lighter classes first, and move up to more intense routines as you get better.

Summary

Sports are a great tool for keeping seniors active and healthy. Just make sure you are physically able to participate safely in the sport you choose. Check with your doctor for a second opinion.

Do you know of a sport for seniors that I missed? Please tell me about it in the comments below!

About Scott Grant, ATP, CRTS® 368 Articles
Assistive Technology Professional, Custom Wheelchair Specialist, Medical Equipment Guru, Dad and Grandfather
I am a lucky dad to four awesome daughters and grandfather to three pretty terrific grandkids. When not working as a custom wheelchair specialist at a regional home medical equipment company, I enjoy early morning runs and occasional kayak trips. I am also a self-admitted nerd who loves anything from the 1980's. Learn More

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