By Ken Reed

America is a sports-crazed nation in one way: spectatorship. We love watching sports a lot more than participating in them. After the age of 13, there’s a big drop in sports participation. After the age of 18, there’s another big drop. For most people, when they give up participating in sports, they also begin spending less time exercising overall. Most Americans continue to exercise less and less as they age.

The not-so-pretty big picture is that only one in five American adults exercises enough based on federal guidelines, only one in six of adults in their mid-50’s, and only one in seven after age 65.

But seniors are beginning to turn that trend on its head.

The percentage of those over 65 exercising at the recommended rate has been on the rise since 1998, when only six percent of Americans over 65 met the federal levels for exercise (at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity, plus muscle-building activity at least twice a week). By 2011, when the most recent study was done, 16 percent of the 65+ set were getting enough exercise from sports and other activities. Many seniors are choosing endurance sports like swimming, running and cycling — often participating in competitive events. Masters swimming, diving, and track and field programs are gaining in popularity every year. Senior Olympics-type events are on the rise. Seniors are discovering there’s no reason that they can’t keep participating in sports long after they’ve added an AARP card to their wallets.

Diana Nyad, at 64, recently became the first person to complete a 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. In doing so, she inspired other baby boomers to get moving.

“She just didn’t give up, she was determined to do it,” said 63-year-old Greg Cooke. “I’m thinking, ‘All right, I can’t let these little aches and pains hold me back; there’s things to do and I’m going to get out there and do them.'”

And when looking for something to do, why not pick a sport to participate in for your exercise? It sure beats running on a treadmill.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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