Going to Extremes: Older Adults Are Testing Their Limits with Extreme Sports

Now more than ever, older adults are testing their physical limits by engaging in sports more commonly practiced by young people, such as surfing, skiing, white-water rafting, skateboarding, and even running marathons. In the past decade for instance, the number of those aged 60 and better who register for the Ironman (a 140.6-mile and 70.3-mile triathlon) has quintupled from about 2,500 participants in 2012 to nearly 13,000 in 2022. Likewise, while the average Iditarod (a multi-day, multi-method race through subzero Alaskan temperatures) participant in the 1900s was in their 30s, the average participant age is now 46.  

Older adults now have time to accomplish many of the goals they had set in their youth and are more inclined to reach them. They find that pursuing goals helps prevent boredom and sedentary habits that sometimes become more routine with age.  

Older women have particularly taken advantage of opportunities to test their physical limits, because they weren’t given the same opportunities to engage in such enduring activities as their male counterparts in the past. While laws prior to the 1970s prohibited women from engaging in activities like marathons, the enactment of Title IX (prohibiting sex-based discrimination in federally funded schools) has given women the opportunity to engage in male-dominated sports. With this law also came a cultural shift in how women are perceived in sports. For instance, a 67-year-old  female surfer noted that, while men never took her seriously as a female surfer in the past by claiming the best waves, they are now far less territorial. 

Although pursuing these activities may sound appealing, they take physical and mental commitment. Older adults must be prepared to defend their goals to family and friends who may exhibit ageist ideals by defining their capabilities. Old adults must also listen to their bodies. Fitness trainers of older adults suggest they can avoid getting hurt while engaging in physical activities by taking a gradual, big-picture approach to achieving fitness goals, rather than jumping into the hardest activities. Despite physical limitations, however, life experience has provided them with the psychological endurance needed to excel physically.  

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Bahrampour, T. (2023, February 25). Americans over 50 are doing extreme sports their grandparents never imagined. The Washington Post. Retrieved March 3, 2023, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2023/02/22/extreme-sports/  



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