Senior Games: Competitive Sports as Successful Aging

Physical activity is an important component of healthy aging. Likewise, research on leisure activities suggests that participation in activities suited to one’s preferences and abilities can have health benefits for older adults. The study of so-called “serious leisure,” or pursuit of leisure activities requiring some degree of perseverance and self-directed personal effort, suggests that such vigorous activity may be a useful component of active aging. An exploratory study in Qualitative Health Research examines the experience of Senior Games participants through a successful aging framework.

The researchers interviewed ten high-level Senior Games participants who ranged in age from 52 to 71, asking open-ended questions about their participation in sports and on topics related to successful aging. Five themes related to successful aging came up across the participants: perseverance, effort and development, personal and social benefits, a “unique ethos” (or a sort of shared worldview), and personally identifying as a Senior Games athlete.

Many participants viewed their involvement in serious athletic activities as part of a larger perseverance against illness or injuries. Participation in masters athletics provided athletes an enduring and valued social identity, one centered on physical activity, focus, and perseverance. Participants, particularly on the older end of the age range, experienced some decline in physical capacity, but they modified their involvement and expectations accordingly, continuing to derive satisfaction out of setting and working toward their training goals.

The authors, referring to the often coincidental way that some of their participants learned about Senior Games, argue that more promotional effort should be made in senior centers and other community sites that serve older adults. They also argue that organizers of Senior Games should do more to reach a more diverse population, as the population of participants is disproportionately white and of high socioeconomic status. (Some participants also commented on the economic costs of participation.) Involvement in serious, demanding athletic activity appears to provide many older adults with a means for successful aging.


Heo K, Culp B, Yamada N and Won Y. Promoting successful aging through competitive sports participation: insights from older adults. Qualitative Health Research; (2012). doi: 10.1177/1049732312457247.


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