Starting sport after 50… Good or bad idea?

April 9, 2021

Starting sport after 50 is not necessarily a bad idea if done smartly. It can be great and beneficial if the right steps are taken first. Those steps would mean checking the current state of health and seeing which sports would suit you the most. If your body can’t handle hard workouts, you should start off by doing something simpler and easier suited to your needs. On the other hand, if your body is in good shape, there are no limitations as to what your body can’t do. 

To learn more, keep reading the article by Dr. Gerald Gremion.

What pitfalls await you if you choose to start a sport after the age of 50, and which activities are the most advisable? These are the questions answered by Dr. Gérald Gremion, a physician at the Swiss Olympic Medical Center (SOMC), affiliated to Swiss Olympic, and an assistant physician at the Department of the Musculoskeletal System at the CHUV. AFTER THE AGE OF 50,

WHAT SPORT WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?

It all depends on the state of health of the person concerned. As soon as pain appears when practising an activity after the age of 50, degenerative lesions are probably already present in the joints and osteo-articular system. Depending on this, you have to modify your physical activity. Explosive sports with a lot of weight should not be forbidden, but at least limited. But there are many people over 50 who play tennis, sprint… There are world championships for seniors in every possible category! It all depends on how you have managed your skeleton throughout your life, your state of health and your genetic make-up. If there is no pain, there are practically no limitations. If pain does occur, it is important to stop and ask the right questions at that time.

WHAT ABOUT THOSE WHO HAVE NEVER DONE ANY SPORT IN THEIR LIFE AND WANT TO START AT THIS AGE?

For those who have not done anything for many years, who have put on weight and who want to take up a sporting activity, a medical check-up should be carried out first. A sedentary lifestyle can lead to an increase in cholesterol levels, or even to diabetes or high blood pressure; the coronary arteries may no longer be in good condition… A medical check-up is essential. Depending on the results, physical activities can be proposed, adapted individually to each person.

ARE THERE ANY SPORTS THAT EVERYONE CAN DO WITHOUT RESTRICTION?

If you think of walking, for example, yes, everyone can do it as long as it is on the flat. Because here too, if you are in an undulating area, if you have a knee problem, the descent may be difficult. The use of poles (Nordic walking) will take the strain off the joints, especially on the way down, and will also stimulate the muscles of the upper limbs. That said, walking may not be fun if you are doing it alone. For many people, the fun aspect plays an important role. So why not do an activity with a bit of play in it? I’m thinking of golf, petanque, electric cycling…

IS PETANQUE CONSIDERED A SPORT?

Yes, of course it is! It’s a sport that requires skill, coordination, a sense of decision about tactics.

THERE IS ALSO BIKING, ESPECIALLY ELECTRIC BIKING, AN ACTIVITY THAT YOU ADVISE?

Many people can do it. But there are more and more accidents in which cyclists lose their lives while riding on the road, simply because there is not enough infrastructure to ensure their safety. As long as they are not properly protected and more cycle paths are not built away from the main roads, things will be problematic. As far as cycling is concerned, the emergence of the electric bike is more interesting, because it allows beginners to start slowly and also to go to steep places. We have conducted experiments in our service with sedentary people. Even with the greatest help, we could see that it was already significant for stimulating the cardiovascular system. Otherwise, mountain biking (which also exists in the form of an electric bike) is quite nice. There are dedicated routes on forest paths everywhere.

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF PEOPLE WHO BUY AN EXERCISE BIKE IN THE HOPE OF GETTING BACK INTO PHYSICAL ACTIVITY?

It’s like walking: after a while, it’s no longer fun. The advantage of doing things outdoors is that you travel for miles. The Indoor cycling, whether in a fitness centre (e.g. spinning) or at home, remains an excellent way to be physically active in adverse weather conditions.

YOU ADDRESS THE CASE OF SEDENTARY PEOPLE. THE BODY CHANGES WITH AGE. YOU MENTIONED WEIGHT GAIN?

This can make it difficult for people to enrol in a course, because of fear… That’s true. But you don’t have to be fashionably dressed to do a little sport. Some loose-fitting clothes easily hide bulges. Here too, going to a good fitness centre and being well accompanied can be worthwhile. Especially in winter, to avoid slippery ground and the cold. A fitness subscription allows you to do many things efficiently. Several centres offer programmes for seniors.

WHAT ABOUT SWIMMING?

It’s interesting, but if you have knee or back problems, you won’t do well with breaststroke. If you are good at backstroke or crawl, it will be positive. But again, in winter, depending on the place, you end up with a crowd of people, swimming in a pool of a few meters. After a while it’s very limited and unpleasant.

WHAT ABOUT RUNNING?

If you started running at a young age and do it regularly, there is no problem. But if you start at the age of 50, it is more complicated. It requires effort and self-denial, because it takes time. Of those who start at this age, few persevere. HOW

MUCH TIME SHOULD BE SPENT ON PHYSICAL ACTIVITY PER WEEK FOR IT TO BE USEFUL?

At least three half hours a week, but you have to start slowly. Again, the most suitable sport would be cycling, especially now that electric bikes are available. You can ride with your own pedalling, and as soon as there’s a small climb, you switch on the electric motor and then switch it off for the descent and the flat…

WHAT DO YOU SAY TO PEOPLE WHO ARE FEARFUL OF BEGINNING AN ACTIVITY FOR FEAR OF HAVING STRUGGLES ON THE DAY?

This is a poor excuse! Sure you have some soreness, but after five days of regular exercise it will go away and you can do your sport without fear. No, I would say that the most important thing is to find a fun activity that allows you to combine the useful with the pleasant, and avoid the spartan side!

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