Modified sports to keep older adults active


Getting older adults to stay physically active through sports could be helped by modifying the games. Shorter playing times and a focus on fun rather than winning may be key to keeping seniors engaged.

New research from Flinders University has found that older adults play sports for enjoyment, fitness and socialising. However, injuries, illness and family obligations can make it harder to participate.

“We know that in Australia, two thirds of young people play sport, but this drops to only a third when looking at Australians aged over 55,” said lead researcher Sarah Crossman. “However, at this age, people often turn to other physical activities such as bushwalking or going to the gym so it’s not that they don’t enjoy physical activity any longer but instead have decided to stop playing organised sport”

With over a third of Australians possibly not getting enough exercise weekly, organised sports could help improve public health if more people stay involved.

The study reviewed data from nearly 100 prior studies with over 48,000 participants in total. It looked at why adults play sports and what stops them. Better health was the top reason reported, followed by enjoyment, improving fitness and achieving personal goals. Social connection was also a strong motivator.

The biggest limitation was injury or illness, followed by family commitments. Cost issues, work obligations and lack of free time were other major constraints.

“How and why adults participate in sport is complex and ever-changing, but our research showed that there are generally more positive reasons to play sport than there are restrictions or constraints,” said Crossman. “What this study does then highlight is where sports and community bodies can focus their efforts in a bid to increase adult sport participation.”

Suggestions include shortening game lengths to ease time pressures and emphasising fun over competition, similar to junior sports. Modified versions like walking netball and futsal address some obstacles like health issues and time constraints.

“We could take this a step further and design many other modified sports programs focussing on enjoyment and health and importantly include the input of the older players themselves,” said Crossman. “This would allow the programs to accommodate individual preferences such as goal achievement and improving fitness and address the limitations of time and finances, but still retain the essence of organised sport.”

Since enjoyment is a key factor, Crossman notes it’s also important to better understand what enjoyment means for people of different ages, genders, life stages and contexts to facilitate their ongoing participation.

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Ritchelle is a Content Producer for Healthcare Channel, Australia’s premier resource of information for healthcare.

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