As we head into Fall, many of us are signing our kids up for Fall sports—and reminiscing about our own childhood sports careers. What we should be doing? Signing ourselves up, too. Experts say sports aren’t just for kids, and moms especially should stay in the game to have a happier, healthier life. For whatever reason, dads are more likely to keep up with their favorite form of competitive exercise, from tennis to golf—so let’s try to join them if we can. Here are 5 reasons why we should all be staying in the game.
Sports Will Keep You Physically Young
The most obvious reason to keep playing sports or get back into it? It’s a guaranteed anti-ager. “With increased age comes a number of physiologic changes that are unavoidable however, to some degree, modifiable. Decreases in cardiovascular reserve, muscle strength, flexibility, reaction time, mental acuity and bone density [particularly in women] are just some of the normal alterations that occur as we all grow older,” says Craig Tifford, Yale Medicine orthopedic sports medicine surgeon. He adds: “Maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise and/or athletic competition can help minimize some of these changes while allowing you to have fun!”
Playing with Friends is Great for Your Mental Health, Too
Team sports are a great way to socialize, and socializing is one of the biggest keys to staying mentally healthy as you get older. Experts have noted social isolation is one of the quickest ways to age, and one of the greatest impacts COVID had on elderly adults was isolation. Competing can also just take your mind off your worries. “Very often, time spent at practices and/or games is the athlete’s opportunity to focus on their sport and temporarily distance themselves from work and/or family obligations,” notes Dr. Tifford.
You’re More Likely to Stick with It
Sports (or even just working out with a friend) might simply be more fun for you, than, say, a solo ride on the stationary bike. If you’re thinking about improving your forehand or taking a set off your practice partner, tennis might be more “addicting” than a monotonous treadmill run. “Whatever makes you happy, whatever gets you out of bed, that is what I recommend. Don’t go try to run (or yoga or tennis or anything else) because that’s what you’re “supposed” to do—do what you enjoy. Because that’s the only way that it is sustainable,” says Dr. Darria Long Gillespie, Harvard and Yale-trained ER doctor, national TV+ media contributor, national bestselling author of Mom Hacks. Being part of a team—or simply committing to work out with a buddy—will also keep you accountable, especially on days you just want to skip your workout.
You Can Incorporate It As Cross-Training
Sports are the ultimate cross-training–and should be incorporated into a variety of exercises, says Dr. Long. “Don’t decide you’ll start running, then do a 5K every day this week. Or try to pick up tennis and hit the courts daily—you’ll be sore after 5 days! Instead, choose a primary activity, then build around that for cross-training,” she says. Once you’ve picked your sports, alternate it with strength training and cardio, and you’ll be able to stave off injury. One more hint: Don’t forget to stretch!
Your Kids Will Model Your Behavior
Monkey see, monkey do, and nowhere is this more relevant than kids seeing you having fun while staying fit. “While I don’t always want to get up and go for a run, I make sure to highlight to my kids how much better mommy feels after she does it,” shares Dr. Long. She adds “We also make physical activity a family affair, combining quality time and some cardio, including going for a hike on weekends, playing together at the pool, a game of tag or hide and seek, or other activities that we can all enjoy doing together.”
Keep in mind, you may not be able to pick up exactly where you left off. So if you were a varsity soccer athlete in high school, jumping into a competitive co-ed adult league might require some pre-competition training. If you were a USTA-ranked junior tennis player, consider taking some group lessons with friends before jumping into the competitive circuit. Sticking to lower impact sports are a good idea, too, says Dr. Tifford. Swimming, bar, yoga, tennis or golf are all great examples. And if you are looking to get back to your glory ideas in a higher impact sports, take it slow, cross train, and listen to your body. But whatever you do…get off the sidelines!