A research study on men’s fitness in Ireland spanned over 20 years and involved 3,400 men. The study had two significant findings. First, the men who were active in middle age were three times more likely to be active in their senior years. Second, men who had played a sport for 25 years+ were five times more likely to be active in their senior years than their counterparts who didn’t play a sport.
Second, men who had played a sport for 25 years+ were five times more likely to be active in their senior years than their counterparts who didn’t play a sport.
This makes perfect sense. Practically every senior who is healthy plays a sport.
- My father-in-law plays tennis every Saturday and he’ll likely play tennis well into his 80s and 90s.
- Bob Fry, a friend in his 60s, plays pickup basketball.
- My friend Jim West competes in Judo and Jujitsu in his 70s.
- The chairman of my board, Jim Johnson, is a fantastic golf player.
Why a Sport is Foundational to Lifelong Fitness
Sport forms the foundation of a fitness routine in our lives. It anchors us to regular movement and physical conditioning. When we play a sport, three things happen:
- We have to actually show up with other people, creating a built-in accountability.
- We connect with our friends, which combats the isolation we all suffer from in modern society. Numerous studies now confirm that these kinds of connections improve our health and stave off early death for a variety of reasons.
- We get all the health benefits from movement and sweat. We stay strong and, as a result, retain our VO2 max as we age.
Contrast this with what happens when you go to a big box gym. At the gym, no one ever cares if you show up, so it’s easy to opt out. When you do show up, you are physically close to a lot of people, but you are all alone. Everyone has a headset on, which creates a demotivating energy vacuum.
Without your friends cheering you on and doing it with you, you don’t push yourself. The result? Eighty percent of us who join a gym opt out in the first five months.
The result? Eighty percent of us who join a gym opt out in the first five months.
This makes perfect sense when you step back and think about it. The big box gym is a modern invention that is completely out of sync with how we are wired as human beings. We are social animals and there is no getting around this.
Practical Advice on How to Find a Sport
1. If at first you don’t succeed…
Before I started hiking, I bought a mountain bike. I knew I had to get in shape and I had some arthritis in my knees, so I thought riding a bike might be the best idea. Unfortunately, I discovered that I just hate peddling. I wish I didn’t. I love the “idea” of biking, but I hate actually doing it. Eventually, I sold my bike and got into hiking, then climbing, and finally, CrossFit. I found my sports, but I had to try a few things first.
2. Free up bandwidth for the new thing you want to add into your life.
When I first started getting into shape, I didn’t have the bandwidth to make a fitness pivot. Like a tree that needed to be pruned, I had to cut a lot of things out of my life to free up the bandwidth I needed. In addition to the time and discipline I needed, I underestimated the toll being tired and sore all the time would take.
Eventually my fitness level improved and created MORE capacity than the time and energy I expended, but this took time – years actually. If you want to make a complete lifestyle pivot, you will need to say “no” to a lot of things you currently have in your life.
3. Get out of your comfort zone.
I want to encourage you to get out of your comfort zone with a sport. You should do something that gives you “butterflies in your stomach” at least some of the time.
4. Favor outdoor sports.
Try to find a sport outdoors. There is ample research about the mental health benefits of getting outside, aside from mitigating the Vitamin D deficiencies that most of us have.
5. Join a friend who is already in a sport.
You might want to find something that your friends are already doing. If you have friends who are already committed to sports, try theirs first. One of the best ways to motivate yourself to join a new sport is to find a person to do it with. And, if you already have that person who is doing something exciting or a sport that you might be interested in, try that first.
6. Find a sport you do every week.
For a sport to really do what you need it to do in your life, find something you do weekly. Better yet, find something you have to train for to get better at it. As we age, we need to push our strength, cardio, and mobility since all of these things naturally decline.
I have a sign in my home gym that says “FIGHT THE OLD” as a reminder of the level of diligence I need to apply to my sport. The Grim Reaper is coming, but I am not going to roll over and let him catch me binge-watching Netflix on the couch. I am not going to make it easy for him to catch me.
The Grim Reaper is coming, but I am not going to roll over and let him catch me binge-watching Netflix on the couch. I am not going to make it easy for him to catch me.
Try a Lot of Free Sessions
There are free sessions or discounted trial periods for practically any sport you want to investigate. You can also find ways to engage in a lot of sports for free through Meetup.com. Try a bunch of things until you find something you like. Here are a few suggestions for sports you might want to investigate:
- Flag Football
- Martial Arts
- Ice skating
- Adventure Racing – Mudder, Ragnar, Spartan
- Mountain Biking
- Rock Climbing
CrossFit Checks All the Boxes
I need to make a special note about CrossFit. I’m a huge fan of CrossFit because it checks ALL the boxes. There is community, strength, cardio, and mobility all involved in CrossFit and these are the key ingredients you need to stay fit through your senior years.
Also, you will find yourself pushing your limits harder than you ever thought you would, and you will love it. CrossFit is not for everyone, but you’ll never know until you try it. Give it a few weeks or a month. Here is a great video that will give you an idea of what a real CrossFit class is like.
Fitness as Legacy
Think about what legacy you are going to leave your kids. During our 30s and 40’s, we are pushing hard, sacrificing for, and taxiing our kids to all kinds of sporting events. Sometimes we find ourselves sacrificing our health during this season of life. But what legacy are we giving our kids if we do this? How are we showing our kids, through our actions, how to live? I’d like my kids and grandkids to see from my life that I’ve made a priority of taking care of myself – all the way to my 90’s. How else can I expect them to do the same?
I’d like my kids and grand kids to see from my life that I’ve made a priority of taking care of myself – all the way to my 90’s.
When you think about getting into a sport and making your lifestyle change, I want you to consider the example you want your grand kids to follow.
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