17 Therapist-Recommended Sports for Older Adults (Solo and Team Options)

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Many seniors can engage in solo and organized team sports as long as they have the physical abilities to participate safely. Our resident occupational therapist offers her expert advice about which sports active older adults may want to consider.

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Sports for Older Adults

Yes! Seniors can participate in sports too. Just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean you are restricted to sitting in a recliner and watching the television.

Regular physical training from sport and fitness activities is highly encouraged for the older generation due to its multitude of emotional, physical and mental health benefits.

Regular physical activity is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle.

This article will discuss sports for older adults to consider, how to get started with a new sport, and how to get the most benefits from your new sport. 

Disclosure: You should consult your medical professional before starting any new exercise or sports program.

Should Seniors Participate in Sports?

Absolutely! That being said, no one expects older adults to try out for the Senior Olympics (unless they want to).

Get to know your body, what you can participate in concerning your physical condition, and your personal goals. Sport and physical activity can provide older adults with numerous benefits, including:

  • Improved heart health
  • Better circulation
  • Increased respiratory (lung) capacity
  • Enhanced muscle strength
  • Increased endurance
  • Improved coordination
  • Heightened reflexes
  • Decreased risk for injury
  • Stronger bones
  • Increased metabolism
  • Better mental health
  • Increased postural stability and balance
  • Reduced risk for falls
  • Increased opportunity for social interaction
  • Sharper cognitive skills

Sports for Older Adults to Consider 

Today’s sports options are so much more than what you were allowed to sign up for in school and widely vary in rules and outlines.

And, just because you are older doesn’t mean you are limited to low-impact sports or playing a no-impact sport if your physical abilities allow more moderate activities.

Here are a few categories with some examples for seniors to consider that promote an active lifestyle and healthy living:

Solo Sports for Older Adults

Running

Running is an excellent exercise that improves your cardiovascular health. Additionally, running provides an opportunity to improve balance and coordination and enhance overall stamina.

Running can be modified from a simple walking or jogging speed to a competitive race. The key to running is getting a great pair of running shoes.

Hiking

Hiking allows older people to explore the outdoors and see things besides the four walls of their homes.

Older adults can adjust hiking in difficulty to meet the unique needs of each individual, improve balance and postural stability, and enhance mental, emotional, and physical health.

Walking sticks might be helpful if hiking is new to you. Of course, regular walking is an excellent substitute too.

Swimming

Swimming is a fun, aerobic exercise that increases lung capacity, improves stamina, and increases metabolism.

Swimming varies in intensity, from wading through the water to performing full-on breaststroke laps. It provides a great workout because all parts of the body are engaged.

Golfing

Golfing is a relatively low-intensity sport. Swinging golf clubs improve joint range and coordination. The walking and moderate exercise involved increases stamina.

The social aspect of playing golf is also great for increasing social engagement while going at your own pace.

Cycling

Cycling is a low-impact activity that provides numerous benefits for older adults. And it can be done on a stationary bike or a bicycle, depending on your needs and goals.

Cycling is excellent for increasing lower body strength, improving cardiovascular health, weight management, and boosting metabolism.

If you are considering cycling, check out our cycling tips for seniors.

Karate

Karate includes various martial arts programs catering to individuals across the age span.

Karate can improve balance, postural stability, muscle strength, core strength, visual perception, and reflexes while providing a whole-body workout.

Another martial art for seniors to consider is tai chi if you prefer a lower-impact activity.

sports for older adults team
Badminton is a sport that requires stamina and hand-eye coordination.

Team Sports for Older Adults

Ballroom dance

Aside from being a great date night idea and mingling with others, ballroom dance is a fun social outlet that improves stamina, muscle strength, balance, and muscle coordination with a lower risk of injury than some sports.

Ballroom dance includes many dance forms, all varying in intensity and style. 

Shuffleboard

Shuffleboard is a mild team sport that allows seniors to improve muscle coordination, joint range, visual perception, and social participation.

Shuffleboard is highly adaptable and can be played while standing or sitting.

There is a reason it is a routine activity at most retirement communities!

Curling

Curling is a moderate-intensity sport requiring balance and coordination due to the slick surface.

For some folks, this may be too intimidating or unsafe, but for others who have outstanding balance, curling is a fantastic way to improve upper body strength, stamina, balance, and muscle coordination. 

Floor hockey

Floor hockey eliminates the need to balance on ice while still benefiting from other aspects of the sport: muscle coordination, upper body strengthening and joint range, stamina, balance, reflexes, improved cardiovascular health, and opportunity for social participation.

Ultimate frisbee

Ultimate frisbee involves tossing a frisbee to teammates to reach a goal across the field.

Conveniently, ultimate frisbee doesn’t have to be intense since the frisbee floats slowly in the air between players, and each player can only take a certain number of steps before needing to toss the frisbee to someone else. 

Badminton

Badminton is an excellent backyard sport of low-to-moderate intensity that requires stamina, coordination, postural stability, and hand-eye coordination.

The birdie isn’t flying through the air as fast as a tennis ball, giving the players time to get safely situated before smacking it to their teammate across the net. 

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Ball Sports for Older Adults

Many ball sports can be adapted by playing the slower pace version of the original version. Walking soccer and walking football are a few examples.

Basketball

Basketball does have an increased risk due to the stamina and muscle coordination required.

However, seniors who enjoy the sport and can safely participate in it would have fun playing a round with two teams of similarly-aged peers. 

Baseball/Softball

Baseball doesn’t have to be hyper-competitive, especially if playing with peers in your same age group.

Baseball or softball works on hand-eye coordination, balance, postural stability, stamina (for running around the bases), joint range (especially in the shoulders), etc. 

Tennis

As a racket sport goes, tennis kicks badminton up a notch for seniors who prefer something a little more fast-paced.

Tennis players improve hand-eye coordination, balance, muscle strength, stamina, and joint range and receive a cardiovascular workout from the overhead and crossbody reaching needed to hit back the opponent’s balls. 

Ping-pong

Ping-pong, aka table tennis, can be fast like tennis, but you won’t get pelted with a heavy ball. Ping-pong demands hand-eye coordination, reflexes, visual perception, balance, stamina, and joint range.

Bowling

Bowling is a perfect sport for aging adults because you can choose a competitive or leisurely pace.

There are multiple ways to adapt your game for both sitting and standing, for both limited joint range and arm strength to full strength, etc.

It is also a great social sport for older adults looking to improve their social life. Lawn bowling is an excellent low-impact exercise you can play at home too.

How to Get Started With a New Sport 

If you’re interested in starting a new sport or exploring an old one and it’s been a while, you can get more mileage from participating and doing it safely.

Here are a few tips to consider before deciding to become an older athlete:

Talk to Your Doctor

If you have a history of cardiovascular illness, respiratory illness, joint injuries or replacements, or any health problems that could worsen with participation, ask for sound medical advice before proceeding. 

Find a Coach or Instructor 

Seeking professional instruction is especially important if you’re starting an exercise program or sport for the first time and would like an experienced person to walk you safely through the basics.

Find a Friend 

Sometimes, motivation to continue in a new sport stems from having someone in your corner who will participate with you or even cheer you on.

Set Realistic Goals

Set some personal goals you would like to achieve in reasonable, incremental steps. Goals could be health-related, socially connected, etc.

Talk to a Rehabilitation Specialist 

A rehab professional can benefit older adults on the mend from a previous illness or injury.

A physical or occupational therapist can help you adapt the sport for a rehabilitative benefit and help you set goals for full, independent participation. 

sports for older adults benefit
Keep your body cool and healthy by drinking plenty of water throughout the day.

How to Get the Most Benefit Out of Your Sport 

If you want to get the full benefit from your sports participation and keep your overall health intact, consider the following tips to complement your activity schedule:

  • Stretch stretch STRETCH: Even if it’s something like golf, where it’s a moderate intensity level, save yourself from preventable injury and stretch for at least 15-20 minutes. 
  • Maintain a healthy diet: Eat complex carbs to provide energy and calories to burn and high-protein meals for muscle tissue repair and build. Limit your sugar and simple carbs intake.
  • Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep your body cool and your circulation healthy.
  • Get your sleep: Make sure you get adequate sleep at night to stay alert and awake during your sport. Fatigue can lead to falls and injury. 
  • Update your eye prescription: If you have poor or compromised eyesight, get your prescription updated so that you can keep yourself safe and see balls, pucks, birdies, and other people coming at you. 
  • Continue attending your regular doctor visits: If you have a medical history that requires regular check-ups, don’t miss or cancel your appointments. 

FAQ

How does an increased amount of physical activity affect the mental health of seniors?

Research shows that increased physical activity for seniors correlates with improved mental health. The same goes for social activity in improving an older adult’s mental state. 

Is there any evidence that participating in physical activities helps active seniors stay healthier for a longer life?

Shaked et al. (2022) found that decreased physical activity among older adults with and without cardiovascular disease were at an increased mortality risk. Both groups made healthy gains with increased physical activity

Should senior citizens try learning a new sport as they age, or should they stick to what they already know?

It all depends on personal preferences and what makes you happy. If you have a personality where trying something new brings you joy, try a new sport. If you’re someone who thrives off of routine and structure, stick with what you know. 

Are any net and ball games particularly good for older adults?

Tennis, ping-pong, and badminton are great examples of net and ball games for older players because they are easily modified to have less impact on aging joints, involve social participation, and address many health concerns. 

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Infographic: Sports for Older Adults

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Sports don’t have to be eliminated just because you’re getting older, and your overall athletic performance may diminish. Many sports – solo and team – can be adapted to meet the needs of older adults with many medical concerns or limited mobility.

If you are starting a brand new sport, consult your primary physician to see if you would benefit from any adaptations. Don’t let the aging process relegate you to a recliner unless you have no choice!

We hope this guide to the best sports for older adults has been helpful and that you now have a few ideas of sports you can engage in. If so, please share this guide on your favorite social media.

If you have other ideas for sports and activities for older adults to consider, please list them in the comments below!

References:

  • Guang Yang, Carl D’Arcy et al. (2022). Physical activity and social support mediate the relationship between chronic diseases and positive mental health in a national sample of community-dwelling Canadians 65+: A structural equation analysis, Journal of Affective Disorders, 298, Part A: 142-150, ISSN 0165-0327, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2021.10.055. (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165032721011447)
  • Shaked O, Cohen G, Goshen A, Shimony T, Shohat T, Gerber Y: Physical Activity and Long-Term Mortality Risk in Older Adults with and without Cardiovascular Disease: A Nationwide Cohort Study. Gerontology 2022;68:529-537. doi: 10.1159/000518169

Meredith Chandler, OTR/L

Registered/Licensed Occupational Therapist

Meredith has worked as an occupational therapist for 9 years and as a content writer for 6 years. She primarily works with the geriatric population, focusing on their rehabilitative needs and instructing caregivers and family members for home care. Her specialties include ADL training, neurological re-education, functional mobility training, adaptive equipment education, and wheelchair assessment and mobility training. She is a painter, a musician, and a mother of 4 who loves spending time with her family,

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