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5 sports which can help you stay fit and active in your 50s

Healthier diets, better education and medical advancements all mean that people are living longer than ever before. There are lots of things we can do to enhance our quality of life as we age. In fact, many people in their fifties are healthier and fitter than people in their twenties due to good nutrition and a strong exercise plan.

Staying fit is not all about pounding the treadmill or lifting weights, however, as there are many sports in which older people can excel. There are a number of sports ideal for mature people, whatever their fitness levels, which can help maintain fitness and enhance heart and muscle health, strength and flexibility.

Use Sport to Combat Disease

Sport is also recommended more combating many physical and mental degenerative conditions, such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease. Physical activity is also ideal for battling circulatory disorders such as Reynaud’s disease and other mental and emotional issues, including depression.

The fifties is an age when a number of issues can creep up on you and affect your health. Younger people can get away with a more sedentary lifestyle or an unhealthy diet due to their youth. However, as we age, our bodies start to reflect our lifestyles more acutely. Low activity levels will result in a sluggish immune system, weak muscles and bones, obesity and a greater risk of cancer and other diseases. These risks increase as we get older.

Lay the Foundations for a Healthy Old Age

The fifties is the ideal decade in which to make a real difference to your health for now and for your future. How you act, the food you eat and the exercise you perform in this decade will impact hugely on your health in your sixties, seventies and beyond. Even for those who have led sedentary lives so far, by making positive changes in the sixth decade of our lives, we can repair much of the damage and lay the foundations for a fit old age.

Here are five sports that are perfect choices for people in their fifties looking to ward off mental and physical problems, improve their bone, muscle and heart health, and stay fit and supple into old age.

1. Tennis

Tennis is a sport that can be played at any level of fitness. When looking at the top players on television it seems as though this sport requires huge amounts of running and strength, however, tennis is equally a gentle sport. A fit person can use it as a strong workout, while a less fit person can take the game at a more leisurely pace. Tennis is an ideal cardiovascular workout at the level you want to exercise at. Provided that you have a partner at a similar level, the game can be played at a sedate pace.

The general moving around the court acts as a cardio workout, while the serving motion and hitting of the ball is great for back and arm flexibility, exercising the muscles. The weight-bearing nature of tennis means that it also improves bone strength, which is important in combating osteoporosis as we age. Hand to eye coordination is also improved by racket sports. Tennis is the ideal alternative to squash for racket sport enthusiasts as they age because it is less physically demanding at a cardiovascular level.

Middle aged man holding a tennis racket stood behind a net

2. Swimming

Swimming is another sport that can be practised at many levels depending on the individual's fitness level. You can swim fast-paced front crawl complete with turns and breathing every fifth stroke, or slow and steady breaststroke with your head always out of the water. That is the beauty of swimming - it is so versatile. Swimming is an excellent sport for toning muscle and improving flexibility as you use virtually all of the muscles in the body when swimming, many of which are rarely exercised out of the pool.

Another benefit of swimming for those with stiffer joints is that it is not a weight-bearing exercise, since the water supports your body weight. Because of this, swimming does not improve bone density in the same fashion as load-bearing exercises, such as tennis or walking, but it is perfect for those looking for a good cardio workout without the risk of injury from impact on the joints and skeleton. Simply be careful to use a smooth stroke to minimise the risk of strains to the shoulders, which is the most common complaint from regular swimmers.

Group of swimmers performing front crawl (freestyle) in open water

3. Walking

Walking is an exercise most of us do all the time without thinking but it is actually one of the very best exercises in existence. Walking is natural to the human body and it is extremely easy to do at any level of fitness. It is also free and easy; simply put on your shoes and head out of the door to partake in this healthy activity. Walking is a load-bearing exercise so it strengthens your bones and reduces the risk of osteoporosis, which is a particular risk for women past the menopause.

Simply walking for 20 minutes per day has been shown to reduce blood pressure, strength the bones and the heart and improve mood. In fact, walking purposefully in pleasant weather has been shown to greatly enhance the mood of walkers and to reduce stress. By walking in hills and dales, the walk creates an awareness of nature, which helps to boost emotional well-being.

Turning walking from a daily event into a sport could mean taking your walk to a hilly area to increase its difficulty, fast-walking or adding ‘sticks’ to create a power march and using your arms to help propel you along. Another way in which you can add interest to your walk is to try playing golf. This sport not only requires a great deal of walking, but it also adds a more social element to the walk if you play against others, while the motion of using the clubs improves flexibility in the arms and torso.

Elderly couple walking hand in hand down the beach towards the camera

4. Cycling

Cycling is a sport that can be performed at any level of fitness. It gives a great cardio workout for a healthy heart and lungs, while also using the leg muscles intensively. Your thighs, glutes and calves will be toned and strengthened without the impact on the joints you get from playing tennis of walking. The lack of impact puts cycling on the same level as swimming when it comes to a joint-friendly workout.

Cycling is also ideal for strengthening the lower back. When the correct position is adopted in the saddle, the leg motion stimulates the lower back and strengthens the spine. Cycling is also good for balance and stability, while the smooth motion increases the sense of well-being and can help to create a feeling of inner calm.

Elderly couple cycling on a tandem

5. Yoga

Another sport which is ideal for mental and emotional health is yoga. The focus on breathing in traditional yoga helps to calm the mind and relax the body. Yoga works the body without jumping or lifting anything and without stressing the body’s muscles or joints. Stretching is an important part of yoga exercises and this helps to improve flexibility, which prevents stiffness in the joints and improves issues such as arthritis.

There are many yoga positions and styles, so you will always find a type of yoga to suit you, from traditional Hatha yoga which focuses on breathing and static poses to the more vigorous Ashtanga yoga which uses gentle, constant movement, progressing from one pose to another in succession. Yoga poses build strength gently without stressing the muscles, using the body’s own weight to create tension.

Yoga can even be practised from a sitting position in a chair, so this is also a great choice for people with various forms of disability or for those in a wheelchair. There are many yoga poses that are possible for everyone to try, whatever their physical ability or age, and everyone can benefit from a yoga workout. Many yoga moves help to strengthen the spine and joints, while improving blood flow, which is another excellent reason for older people to partake in yoga exercise.

Elderly lady stretching, reaching her left arm over her head as she bends to her right

Improve Your Health Forever

These five sports are ideal for practicing into old age as they can all be tailored to suit the individual exerciser, whatever their ability level or fitness level. For a great old age, why not try all five of these sports? An ideal exercise routine would include some weight-bearing exercise, such as walking or tennis, together with some low-impact exercises such as swimming and cycling. Yoga acts as the perfect complement to these forms of exercise as it is focused on stretching and breathing, which helps to protect the muscles.

For exercise ideas, take a look at Netdoctor's advice here.

By partaking in sport and physical activity in your fifties you can strengthen the heart and skeleton, improve circulation and reduce the risk of many diseases, while battling the symptoms of various existing health conditions. Tennis, swimming, cycling, walking and yoga are five sports can be enjoyed into old age and used in your exercise routine forever at the level that suits you.