By Ken Reed

The vast majority of Americans stop participating in competitive sports after high school, college at the latest. That’s not the case in other countries, where club sports organizations keep citizens active from 8 to 80.

It’s sad that American athletes throw in the towel so early on their sports careers. Moreover, it has negative ramifications for their physical and psychological health.

Joseph Baker is a professor of exercise science. For years, he wondered why some 70-year-olds could compete in triathlons while some got winded walking up a flight of stairs. He wanted to know if declining physically was simply the result of getting old or a result of becoming sedentary.

Baker studied senior team handball players and concluded:

“Their motor skills may have declined a bit, and they might be a little slower. But if they’ve kept up the practice, they can be as good as any elite athlete.”

He has done many other studies with masters athletes, those that are older than 35, with classifications every five years. He says the results of these studies indicate that even moderate physical activity leads to optimal physiological, psychological and social health.

Those are important findings because the common cultural stereotype in the United States is that people over 35 are “too old” to continue competing in athletics.

Baker and his colleagues are exploring the possibility that the slower movements of aging athletes might be attributed as much or more to practicing less as one gets older than it is aging.

A study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise of masters athletes at the Hawaii Ironman triathlon (an event consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a full marathon) found that the top male finishers ages 60 through 64 were only a few minutes slower than the top 30-through 34-year-olds. The study concluded that the older athletes are “a fascinating model of exceptionally successful aging.”

“There was a time when many people thought you simply couldn’t be a serious athlete after your early 30s,” says Michael Joyner, M.D., a professor of physiology at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. “That’s obviously not the case.”

So, what’s the only logical takeaway? Adults, whatever their age, need to get out there and play ball!

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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