Senior fitness programs key to thwarting Father Time

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GRAND CANE, La. (AP) — Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame member Lin Gamble was reluctant to join the Hoopaholics, a senior women's basketball team, in 2002 when the group first contacted her about becoming a participant.

Even though she had remained active working on her farm in Grand Cane and coaching in Joaquin, Texas, 66-year-old Gamble had been removed from basketball participation for several years. She also had elderly family members to care for. But a year or two later, she retired and accepted an invitation to join the Hoopaholics, a group of women now in their mid-60s.

They practice once a week in the LSUS gym and compete in five to six tournaments a year, as well as in the National Senior Games Association every other year.

The women are emblematic of what appears to be an ever growing number of adults over 50 reviving an athletic endeavor they enjoyed as a youngster or taking up a sport for the first time. The number of participants and the available sports are expected to increase as more Baby Boomers seek ways to remain healthy as they age, according to experts like Del Moon, communications director for the NSGA.

"We have more than 10,000 participants in a wide variety of sports at our national games, held every other year, and about half of them picked up a sport in mid-life," Moon said. "The number of participants in senior athletics, especially at the state level, has definitely increased over the last 10 years and we want to see more."

According to an NSGA website, the U.S. population of citizens over 65 years old will nearly triple by the year 2020. And many of them will be obese and suffering from health related issues, such as diabetes, due to a lack of exercise.

For Gamble, the chance to return to a game she succeeded in her high school and college days was too much to pass up. The DeSoto Parish native averaged 48.2 points per game her senior year at Grand Cane and was a three-time All-American at Ouachita Baptist.

"I've been with the Hoopaholics for 12 years now and it served a couple of things for me," Gamble said. "I get to share something I love in playing basketball with some people who have similar interests. And it gives me an opportunity to share a physical activity with others instead of having to do something like running alone."

Locally, senior activities are booming as well, according to Shreveport Parks and Recreation supervisor of senior programs Camille Webb.

"There have been increases. We average about 300 to 400 people per week in our programs run Monday through Friday," Webb said. "We tell the people that they don't have to do something strenuous — they just need to be doing something."

SPAR offers everything from line dancing to dance aerobics to piano lessons, which exercise your mind, your arms and your fingers, according to Webb. Chair aerobics is run almost daily at one of the following centers: David Raines, Bill Cockrell, A.B. Palmer, Hattie Perry, Valencia or Lakeside.

One of the newest participation sports on the SPAR agenda is bean bag baseball.

"It's sort of a cross between baseball and bowling where you toss the bag through a hole. They love it," Webb said.

Also fairly new is chair volleyball, which allows wheelchair bound attendees to participate.

"It exercises your upper body and it's a lot of fun," Webb said. "They cannot get out of their chairs to get the ball over the net."

One of the newest games added into the NSG repertoire is pickleball, which incorporates some of the tenets of tennis, badminton and ping pong while being played on a badminton-sized court.

"It's a show stopper at the national tournament, and it's game that has grown approximately 50 percent in the last two years," said Tom Burkhart, pickleball director for the NSG. "Plus it's easier on the joints and it's a lifetime sport. I've seen 9-year-olds playing it and I've played against a 92-year-old."

Every year, an estimated 35,000 seniors qualify for the NSG through the 51 state organizations. Moon said about 10,000-12,000 show up to compete at nationals, but the organization isn't just about the competitions.

"We are tasked by the United States Olympic Committee to present health and fitness programs to individuals over 50 years old," Moon said. "We take that very seriously and have made a huge effort in the last three years to honor our mission."

LSUS professor Cay Evans said staying active is critical no matter a person's age.

"A part of the aging process is loss of muscle strength, flexibility and cardiovascular conditioning. Some of these changes are due to physiological changes in the body as it ages," Evans said. "Some, though, are a result of a more sedentary lifestyle that can occur as one ages. Staying active is the best way to combat these changes."

Evans said being active contributes to the overall quality of life and the mental well-being of an individual.

"Especially if the activity is with a class, group or team. Friendships are made and a support system develops," she said. "And when you find something you enjoy doing, and pursue that activity, it is simply fun."


Information from: The Times,

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