The Benefits Of Sport For Seniors

More and more retirees are doing physical activity. They derive many health benefits from it. But before resuming training, a visit to your doctor is recommended.

In his office, Dr. Maxime Grosclaude receives more and more senior patients who wish to resume physical activity. “The transition to retirement often represents a privileged moment of sporting re-engagement, explains this sports doctor at the Hôpital de la Tour in Geneva. These people have time on their hands and want to stay in shape.” But is sport practiced in the same way at 20 as at 65? “Yes for someone who has trained regularly throughout his life, answers Maxime Grosclaude categorically. But for people who start a physical activity at retirement age or who intensify their practice, it is recommended to carry out medical examinations.

With aging, the muscular, bone and cardiovascular systems become less efficient. Certain pathologies may appear, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis or even heart problems. It is then necessary to carry out tests to assess the risks of a sports practice, in particular at the cardiovascular level and joint pain. “These examinations can be carried out by a general practitioner, specifies Maxime Grosclaude. However, if the patient has more specific questions about the proper way to practice their sport or train, it may be useful to speak to a sports doctor. The latter is also able to help him set realistic long-term goals.”

Regularity, always

The practitioner is formal: with physical exercise, only regularity pays off. “It’s like quitting smoking, the real benefits on mortality are only obtained after a regular practice of several years.” But the efforts are well worth it in terms of quality of life and, in this regard, the results are immediate. Active seniors have a life expectancy five years longer than inactive ones, they suffer less from hypertension, excess cholesterol and take fewer medications. They also maintain better balance abilities, which plays a crucial role in preventing falls and accidents.

Hence the importance of motivation: “The person must find an activity that they enjoy doing,” explains Maxime Grosclaude, who does not envisage any particular restrictions for healthy seniors. “I have a 60-year-old patient who practices skydiving, nothing is impossible! But of course, a person who suffers from joint pain should rather focus on swimming or cycling than running, for example.

A sociological study conducted in France1 shows that seniors mostly choose activities such as yoga, walking, the gym, cycling or cross-country skiing. With age, we hardly practice team sports like football or basketball, and even less contact sports like karate or boxing. “The search for regularity, routine and security is often part of the third age, testifies Nicolas Duruz, psychologist and author of the book Tell me why you run (Ed. Medicine & Hygiene, 2015). We are less in search of new sensations. Aged 73, this Lausanne native started running thirteen years ago, “a bit by chance”, when his son had offered to accompany him to a competition. He now trains about twice a week and competes in six or seven popular races each year. “I am a fan of slow running, says Nicolas Duruz. Like a meditation session, running allows me to let go. I don’t force, I listen to my body and my intuition.” The paradox of the sports practice of seniors, according to the psychologist, is that it preserves the body, while revealing its alteration. “With age, we also tend to give less importance to the eyes of others. Competition is no longer a motivation for me.

Good for socializing

Nicolas Duruz nevertheless observes that some of his contemporaries actively seek performance. The media sometimes echo new world records set by centenarians, such as French cyclist Robert Marchand or British marathon runner Fauja Singh, both 105 years old. “These athletes benefit from exceptional genetic heritage and not everyone can achieve such results”, specifies Maxime Grosclaude, for whom it is positive that seniors still wish to participate in competitions, “without it becoming excessive”.

The doctor also underlines the psychological benefits of practicing a sport as you get older, particularly in terms of socialization and self-esteem. But he regrets that “according to the latest statistics, only 44% of the Swiss practice a sport several times a week2. In addition, physical exercise remains largely dependent on the economic and social level of individuals. As sports doctors, we still have a lot of work to do to motivate people.”