Baby Boomers are constantly being told to stay active and fit in older age for the benefit of their health, but many aren’t sure where to begin. There’s no denying that the ageing process makes it harder for over-60s to participate in activities they once did, while health conditions and physical limitations can also restrict many.
While latest figures have shown some 1.4 billion adults around the world are shunning physical activity, the case for many older Australians is that there simply aren’t appropriate sporting facilities or opportunities for those that want to get involved. That’s why Sport Australia has launched a $22.9 million Better Ageing program, which encourages older Australians to become more active.
Associate Professor Rochelle Eime from the Institute of Health and Sport at Victoria University told Starts at 60 the new program is badly needed because many clubs and organisations simply don’t cater to older adults.
“The majority of sports programs and competitions are generally targeted at children and youth, so older adults don’t often perceive there’s opportunities for them,” she said. “If you haven’t played before, it’s going to be difficult to enter into sport when they’re older.”
Older players haven’t been at the forefront when it comes to planning and inclusion in sport, although with the new funding, Eime said the strategic focus and policy is changing. For the first time, Sport Australia’s sport policy must focus on more than competition sport and winning medals.
“Now that Sport Australia has changed their focus, sports will change and have a focus on older adults,” she said. “It’s a big market, it’s an untapped opportunity but there are few older adults, less than 1 per cent of the population, playing club-based sports, so there’s a lot of opportunity for sports to try and cater.”
At present, less than 0.5 per cent of over-55s play sport, compared to the 40 per cent of children aged between 10-14.
“They’ll need to think and prioritise them as a target group and look at their needs, desires and make sure their offerings match that,” Eime added.
There are some games that have been redesigned and restricted for older players. In addition to traditional sports such as lawn bowls and tennis, there are cricket, soccer and basketball clubs and organisations that have tried to be more welcoming to Boomers. A common theme is that the clubs have introduced walking versions of the sport, although Eime says more needs to be done.
“Sports have looked at making sure it’s non-contact and making sure it’s not physically exerting for them,” she said. “Sports need to think more broadly than just walking options.”
For example, cricket clubs could bring in boundaries so it’s not so far, use smaller balls, play at cooler times of the day and modify offerings so older people do feel more welcome.
“Ten years ago or so, sports changed their traditional adult format of competition to modified sport for young kids,” Eime explained. “So it’s a smaller area, smaller balls, different rules to meet the developmental capacity and the physical capacity of young children between six and nine years of age, so I think sport needs to think about modifying their opportunity and programs for older adults.”
In addition, altering facilities by including ramps and rails could make it easier for Boomers to move around. As well as the physical health benefits, being part of a club or team can also have social and psychological benefits for those who are retired, widowed, living alone or away from family. Even for those not playing, connecting at clubs gives them a purpose and a sense that they’re part of a community.
For those unsure where to start, Eime said checking out the Sporting Association website in their state is a good starting point. Each website has contact details, as well as programs available in the area.