Lifetime sports are those you can play for your whole life. Finding a sport that you enjoy is one of the keys to exercise adherence (otherwise known as sticking with it once you start).1 You can’t win or reap all the physical and mental health benefits of sport if you don’t continue to play it.
It’s much easier to find the time (and money) for exercise when it’s also a fun pastime—even a passion.
“While visions of improved health and fitness—not to mention looking and feeling great—can get most of us started on an exercise program, they’re notoriously weak motivators over the long haul,” writes exercise physiologist Bob Hopper, sport371 author of Stick with Exercise for a Lifetime: How to Enjoy Every Minute of It!.2
Hopper argues that if you “pursue a physical activity program with the goal of having fun, learning new skills, and improving performance,” better health and fitness will come along as “natural byproducts.”
Physical Activity Guidelines
To reap the benefits of physical activity, adults (including those over 65 years old) should aim for:
at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, 5 days a week
or 20 minutes of vigorous exercise, 3 days a week
plus strength training at least twice a week
What Makes a “Lifetime” Sport?
Tennis, golf, swimming, track and field, and many other sports have “masters” or “seniors” divisions that let athletes compete at top levels well into adulthood.3
However, there’s no need to participate in competitions to play your favorite sports (unless you want to!). You also don’t have to stick stubbornly with a sport you once loved if it no longer fits well into your life.
Almost any sport can be a lifetime sport for the right person. That said, if you’re starting a little later in life, some sports might be too risky. “Lifetime” status is less likely in contact or high-impact sports because there is a higher risk of traumatic and overuse injuries.4
There is a reason why sports such as walking, yoga, and water exercise are popular as lifetime sports. They are simple to pick up and don’t require a ton of equipment.
You can walk at your own pace and on your own schedule. Yoga can help preserve flexibility, and there is a spectrum of styles and classes. Restorative yoga classes are slow, gentle, and use props to help you get into poses. A power yoga class will require some cardiovascular effort.
Water exercise is easy on the joints and available wherever you have access to a pool, though you might want to enroll in a class.
For lower-risk options (there’s no such thing as no risk), consider these lifetime-friendly sports:
Ballroom or Middle Eastern dance
Bowling, curling, or bocce ball
Canoeing and other paddle sports
Golf or disc golf
In-line skating or ice skating
Martial arts (especially tai chi)
Skiing, cross-country skiing, or snowshoeing
Swimming or water aerobics
Tennis and other racquet sports, like pickleball
Walking or hiking (indoor options include the track at a gym or even shopping mall walking)
Yoga or Pilates
3 Ways to Enjoy Lifetime Sports
No matter which sport you choose (and remember, you can keep trying new ones!), Hopper recommends a couple of strategies to help you love it.2
Join a team or pair up with a friend who also plays the sport.
Take it slow and steady to prevent injury and burnout.
Work with a coach to learn new skills and refine what you’ve already mastered.
“You may start out thrilled with your new exercise program and decide to block out time for it every day,” Hopper suggests. “Resist that temptation. The most successful programs seldom develop that way. […] Most long-term success comes from starting small, experiencing success, and building slowly on that success.”2
It doesn’t matter whether you are trying to help your child settle on a sport, or you are a young adult looking to create a path toward lifelong fitness, or you’re an older adult trying to start or restart a fitness practice. There is a sport out there for you, and it’s never too late to start.