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Fit Over 50

Social Exercise

Breanna Olaveson May 1, 2019

In the 1960s, Hugo Jacobsmeyer was a competitive collegiate track and field athlete. For several decades after that, he worked as a high school teacher and coach for track, basketball, volleyball and other sports. These days the Riverton, Utah, resident enjoys competing in senior games competitions, including the Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George.

“I was around all these people who were 70, 80, even 90 years old, and I was just having a ball because they were so funny,” Jacobsmeyer says of the first time he competed in senior games. “There was a gentleman who was 90 and competing in the shot put. He’d pick it up and drop it in front of him and everybody would be cheering. And of course, he won first place, because he was the only person in his age group.”

Seniors all over the country are enjoying the benefits of group exercise, from official senior games competitions to local recreation leagues to regular rounds of golf to couples’ days in the gym. Combining physical exercise with social interaction is making their retirement years truly golden.

Physical Benefits

The most obvious benefits are physical — exercise strengthens muscles, joints and bones, improves heart health and blood pressure, and can help maintain a healthy weight.

“Our doctor tells us that he thinks we are in such good shape for our age that he expects us to live another 10 years,” says June Jeppson, a St. George resident who exercises with her husband six days a week for 90 minutes a day. They are both 83. “If so, we want to feel good while we’re here. We don’t want to be a burden on our children by having strokes, heart attacks or other ailments that afflict senior citizens.”

Jacobsmeyer points out that regular exercise also has more immediate benefits.

“One really good benefit of exercising is that it allows you to eat,” he says. “I’ve been blessed with a wife who is a great cook. When people ask me why I exercise, I tell them it’s so I can eat more without gaining a lot of weight.”

Social Benefits

Participating in group exercise, visiting a gym regularly and competing in the National Senior Games have another benefit in common: positive social interaction.

“At our age, just to participate is fun,” Jacobsmeyer says. “It’s not like it’s highly competitive. It’s just a good camaraderie. We can still be active and enjoy it and cheer each other on.”

How to Get Started

A 2014 study by Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders showed that taking up exercise at any age — even in your 70s or 80s — leads to benefits later on. If you would like to join an exercise group or team (and your doctor gives a green light), a good place to start is at your local recreation center or gym. Many have senior leagues for basketball, volleyball, racquetball and more.

“I would encourage a gym membership,” Jeppson says. “Some insurances will pay for about half of the annual fee, and SilverSneakers may be available at reduced costs.”

Jacobsmeyer also spends a lot of time with his wife at their local city recreation center.

“The city rec centers are awesome,” he says. “You have swimming, racquetball, volleyball — anything you’d really like to do. The key is to just do something on a regular basis.”

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