Every once in a while, when I’m out and about in my neighborhood and beyond, I come across an older person exercising. Perhaps they’re running or cycling, paddling on a kayak, or walking at a brisk pace. Perhaps they’re playing tennis, lawn bowling, or some other sport. You often see them in my own sport of judo, where older judokas can be found on the mats at virtually every club that I’ve ever trained at or visited over the decades, and everyone benefits greatly from their presence and participation.
As a long-time volunteer instructor and now a Director of a national sport organization (NSO), such matters are of more than peripheral interest to me. The people I’m talking about here are not in their forties or fifties but in their sixties and older, which in my book makes them full-fledged members of the “active for life” club. How did they get there? How do we support more people getting active and staying so?
The benefits are unquestionable and well documented. I just came across one such paper, which looks at the effects of training on the brain and muscle function of elderly practitioners in my own sport of judo. Published a few weeks ago in Nature by Sylwester Kujach et al. of the Medical University of Gdańsk, it reports the following:
“It is worth adding that judo practitioners (more than 10 years of judo experience) possessed higher gray matter volume in various regions of the brain associated with motor learning, planning, and execution, as well as memory and cognitive processes when compared with healthy controls. It was speculated that these adaptations were the result of the complex motor skills required during judo training25. Practicing judo techniques also requires cooperation with a partner (uke), what is more, the judo sessions are conducted in groups of participants mainly. Consequently, these factors can strengthen social interactions, positively influencing the cognitive function of older people26.”
Judo is the sport I happen to be involved with, but it’s not about this sport or that one. It’s about getting more people to be more active, and staying so for life. Getting back to the older people I was talking about earlier, who knows how long they’ve been on this path and how they got started in the first place? Most likely, it was at a young age. Perhaps it started with them having fun playing dodgeball in the school yard as kids. Perhaps they participated in various organized sports as children and teenagers, and were fortunate to have good coaches and instructors and other adults who didn’t put them off in a hundred different ways, but instead helped them develop a true love of physical activity.
Whatever the case may be, here are people who, decades on, have clearly internalized the importance of staying active and, most likely, just enjoy doing so. That, to me, is the measure of success we should all care about most, individually and collectively.
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