One of the best ways to boost your fitness is to break away from your exercise routine and try something new.
When are you “too old” to try a new sport or physical activity? “Never!” says James N. Robinson, M.D., a sports medicine physician at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.
In fact, it’s a common misconception that older adults need — or want — to stick with the same old, same old.
“The body adapts to exercise, so over time it’s important to change your routine and try new exercises,” Dr. Robinson says. “Find an activity you enjoy so you’ll stick with it.”
To help you shake up your routine this summer (or anytime, really) we asked top health and wellness experts who specialize in working with older adults for a few fun new activities to add adventure to your summer.
As always, safety is key. The activities here may be different or more advanced than your regular SilverSneakers class or gym workout. If you have a chronic condition, an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.
Another way to have fun this summer? Try a new SilverSneakers group fitness class! Choose from dozens of different Community classes. Check out the lineup at your participating SilverSneakers fitness location. Or view the current schedule of SilverSneakers LIVE online classes here.
Fun Fitness Activity #1: Take a Swing at Pickleball
Once you whack the perforated ball used in pickleball across the lower-than-tennis net, you’ll understand why it’s the fastest-growing sport for the second year in a row, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA).
The popular mashup of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong — often played as doubles — is easy to master, kinder on the body than tennis, and so fun it’s addictive for active aging adults. Sixty percent of people who play pickleball eight or more times a year are 55 or older, notes the SFIA.
You can input your zip code on the USA Pickleball Association website to find out where to play near you. Good news for SilverSneakers members, many participating SilverSneakers fitness locations now offer pickleball courts.
Play safe: Before you play, make sure to warm up with slow, active stretches.
Try these 5 “shakeout” moves to prime your muscles to help prevent injuries.
During the game, USA Pickleball advises against “backpedaling,” or moving backward on the court to hit a ball, to reduce risk of falling.
Instead, turn and run for the ball — or just let your partner get it.
After the game, take a few minutes to bring your heart rate down and give your muscles a chance to recover. Do a couple minutes of deep breathing to increase oxygen flow to the muscles, then do some static stretching.
If (make that, when!) you get hooked on pickleball, check out the 3 Best Exercises to Improve Your Pickleball Game here.
Fun Fitness Activity Idea #2: Sign Up for a “Race”
Take your regular stroll up a notch by signing up for a local Independence Day fun run/walk, the second most popular day of the year for road races (after Thanksgiving), according to Running USA, a nonprofit organization that tracks racing trends.
Fitness race camaraderie is contagious, and walkers are always welcome at community and charity fun runs, says Kenneth Koncilja, M.D., a geriatrician with the Cleveland Clinic Center for Geriatric Medicine.
Have other plans for the holiday? Charity “races” are so popular that you won’t have to look hard to find one on a weekend that works for your schedule. Just type “charity fun runs near me” into your internet search bar and see what pops up.
The websites Roadracerunner.com and Active.com also have event calendars that you can filter by race type, distance, and location.
If you’re already walking regularly, gradually adding 10 to 20 minutes to each walk will boost the fitness you need to take part in a fun run/walk.
For inspiration and motivation, check out the 7-Day Power Your Walk Challenge here. It includes expert tips — including advice from SilverSneakers Walk Strong (Express) instructors — and workouts for different fitness levels.
Walk safe: Sign up with a friend or family member.
“It’s helpful for motivation, to stay accountable, and for safety considerations,” Dr. Koncilja says.
Be sure to read the full event details before registering to review the course map. Double check that the course will be manageable — no surprise hills, for example. Also take note if walkers have a different start time or are to follow a different path than those who are running.
Fun Fitness Activity #3: Go on a Guided Hike
When you hike on a trail, navigating different terrain and changes in elevation works the muscles in your core, legs, and ankles more than “plain” walking does, explains Amanda Sachdeva, P.T., D.P.T., a physical therapist with Hospital for Special Surgery.
Plus, hiking requires balance, coordination, and focus.
A guided hike takes any stress out of the equation as a professional plans the route, leads the hike, tells you what to bring or provides equipment, and offers local lore.
Many state and local parks host guided hikes and tours; check the visitor guides on their websites to see what’s offered. You can also type “guided hikes near me” into your internet search bar. Another good resource for guided hikes is the outdoor retailer L.L. Bean’s Outdoor Discovery Program.
Hike safe: Sachdeva points out that hiking is an activity you need to train for — even if you’re only going on a short hike. You might be able to walk 3 miles in your neighborhood in one hour, but depending on the terrain and conditions, a 3-mile hike can take much longer.
If you’ve never hiked before, be sure to get your doctor’s OK. A smart training plan for hiking includes a mix of strength training, cardio, and balance exercises. The workouts in our 7-Day Better Balance Challenge are a good starting point.
Recruit a friend or family member to join you on the guided adventure. Consider hiking polls for added stability and to take stress off your knees and hips.
Fun Fitness Activity #4: Ride a Bike
Warm weather and long daylight hours make summer the perfect time to dust off your 10 speed for a cruise around your neighborhood.
“Riding a bike is a nice low-impact activity that improves strength and muscular endurance in your legs,” says Sachdeva.
Thinking about new wheels? Consider a pedal-assist “e-bike.” Popular among bicyclists age 55 and up, electric bikes still require pedaling but allow you to turn on a motor to help you power up hills and cover greater distances.
Pedal safe: Traffic and unsafe crossings concern bicyclists of all ages, according to the League of American Bicyclists. Look for car-free local parks, rails-to-trails paths, and bicycle-friendly beach towns.
Don’t forget to wear a helmet. Opt for brightly colored clothing to help you stay visible to others on the route.
Need to brush up on your pedaling skills? Local bike shops can put you in touch with beginner programs in your area. The national retailer REI also offers cycling classes for beginners that include the use of bikes and helmets.
Fun Fitness Activity #5: Glide Along in a Kayak
Low impact and serene, kayaking is great way to socialize with other adventurous folks. Plus, navigating waters and looking for obstacles keeps your mind sharp.
“Kayaking is beneficial for improving upper body and core strength,” says physical therapist Sachdeva.
Sign up for a class with a local YMCA or an outfitter that provides instruction and equipment, such as L.L.Bean and REI, which offer kayak classes for beginners nationwide.
Paddle safe: Getting in and out of a kayak may be the biggest challenge. Ask for help stabilizing the kayak or consider a sit-on-top kayak.
Remember water-safety basics:
- Always wear a life jacket
- Apply sunscreen
- Bring water to stay hydrated
- Head out with a partner
- Let someone on land know when you’re heading out and when you plan to be back
Fun Fitness Activity #6: Paddle Out on a Standup Paddleboard
Standup paddleboarding (SUP) is more than just a fun way to explore waterways — it’s particularly beneficial for older adults.
Staying balanced and upright on a paddleboard calls on pretty much every muscle in your body, especially your core, points out physical therapist Michael Gervetzman, P.T., D.P.T., with Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. That makes it an awesome functional activity.
SUP safe: Look for beginner courses and guided excursions at lakes and waterways near you. L.L. Bean and REI both offer learn-to-SUP classes that include equipment.
Feeling wobbly? There’s no rule saying you must stand up. You can always sit or kneel on the paddle board first to gain confidence.
Fun Fitness Activity #7: Find Your EnerChi
Often called meditation in motion, the ancient Chinese martial art called tai chi improves balance, flexibility, strength, and mobility, and is particularly accessible for people with mobility issues, says Gevertzman.
Science has shown tai chi provides a raft of health benefits, including lowering blood pressure, reducing depression, and improving cognition and immunity.
SilverSneakers EnerChi classes are a great introduction to tai chi, and the classes are right for all fitness levels. You’ll perform modified tai chi movements in a slow, flowing sequence.
SilverSneakers EnerChi is offered both in-person at participating fitness locations (check the gym’s schedule for exact times), or online with SilverSneakers LIVE. View the current schedule and RSVP here.
Move safe: Even with gentle practice like tai chi, it’s important to bend, twist, and sway within your personal comfort zone.
“Start slow, especially if you’re taking medications or are new to exercise,” says Dr. Koncilja.
Fun Fitness Activity #8: Take a Tap or Hip-Hop Dance Class
“Tap and hip-hop may seem like polar opposites, but both require motor planning, motor control, stability, and balance,” says Gevertzman.
Plus, learning new dance sequences exercises your brain. Indeed, a research review showed that adults ages 52 to 78 who took dance classes improved flexibility, strength, balance, endurance, and cognition. They also tended to stick with the activity. The findings were published in the journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine.
Dance safe: Tap and hip-hop can be fast-paced and confusing for beginners, which is why it’s best to look for a class tailored to older adults, says Gevertzman. Seated tap-dance classes offer the same fun opportunity for mobility-impaired folks and others dealing with chronic conditions.
Fun Fitness Activity #9: Go Fishing
This favorite pastime releases stress, improves dexterity, and provides ample bonding time when you go fishing with friends or family, which helps relieve social isolation, says Dr. Koncilja.
You can rent fishing equipment at outfitters located near water sources and find watering holes in state or national parks.
Fish safe: Recruit an experienced fishing partner — that’s what makes it fun! Always wear a life jacket. It’s also a smart idea to pack water and snacks since it’s easy to lose track of time when you’re fishing. And bring along a cell phone for safety.
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