5 Sports You Can Start Today (and Play Forever)

//
Yoga yields health benefits for those of all ages. Photo: Pixland/Thinkstock

Full contact sports produce world-class athletes, but they also destroy them through concussions, torn ligaments and broken bones.  If you want to get in shape and stay that way, consider one of these sports instead. From swimming to tennis to yoga, they all build strength, tone muscles and come with a host of health benefits. They’re fun, challenging and competitive if you’re in your 20s or 30s, but even those approaching or past 100 years old can get in on the fun- and stay alive and healthy because of it.

Swimming

Swimming produces fit athletes, young and old. Photo: Steve Mason/Thinkstock

If you’ve seen Michael Phelps in his swimsuit, you know swimming is a great way to get incredibly fit. The water provides natural resistance, which builds and tones muscles. Swimming also strengthens the heart, improves flexibility, works muscles that are largely ignored by other exercises, reduces stress and burns a whole lot of calories.

As terrific as swimming is for athletes of all ages, it has added benefits for senior citizens. The water supports the weight of the body, so stress on the skeleton is eliminated: no impact means no injuries. It can also ease arthritis. (The most common injury is to the shoulder, caused by overuse among competitive swimmers.) For proof, look to veteran long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad: the 61 year old is working on a record-breaking 103-mile swim from Cuba to the Florida Keys.

Yoga

Yoga is one of the best ways to improve your health, all without running, jumping or lifting anything- and it makes you tangibly happier. Because there’s so much room for variation (flexibility, even) in how it’s practiced, yoga can be tweaked to accommodate participants of any age, and builds strength without over-stressing joints or muscles.

Cycling

Even for those near 100 years old, cycling is a viable way to exercise. Photo: Brick House Pictures/Getty Images

Given the benefits cycling has for your heart, mental health, immune system and calves, it’s no surprise that the sport’s top event, the Tour de France, draws the fittest athletes in the world. But it produces more than its fair share of elderly participants as well, like Robert Marchand, the 100 year old Frenchman who just rode 15 miles in an hour and Octavio Orduño, who, at 103, still bikes daily.

Tennis

Senior tennis players are often the smartest on the court. Photo: Tim Clayton/Corbis

Professional tennis is best left to the youngsters: at 30 years old, Roger Federer, possibly the best player in history, is considered over the hill. The speed and agility required to move across the court make tennis players among the most fit people on the planet.

But you don’t need to be on the pro circuit to appreciate the sport’s benefits. For older players, a switch from a hard court to clay can reduce stress on the knees. And while sprinting across the court to scoop up a drop shot may no longer be in the cards, veterans of the sport will still see their coordination, flexibility, balance and brain function improved. From personal experience, I’ll add that the craftiness and skill of the older folks I’ve played with can easily make up for the loss of speed and power.

Golf

Golfing: the much more fun version of walking. Photo: Getty Images

The simple act of walking is one of the best ways to stay in shape, especially for senior citizens. But it can also be boring, and it’s hard to motivate yourself to do anything that just isn’t any fun. Fortunately, there’s a sport that takes hours of walking and makes it a lot more interesting: golf. It may not be the most vigorous workout, but 18 holes of golf can leave even a fit, young person feeling sore.

Much like for tennis, golf skills are acquired over time- so reduced strength is compensated by an improved feel for the game.

Follow Alex on Twitter.