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Washington --- Senior citizens who engage in competitive sports are healthier and happier than those who do not, a medical study shows.
The University of Pittsburgh found that senior athletes scored markedly higher on a standardized health test than the general senior population, and had a higher bone density as well.
"We believe that sports competition, exercise and fitness provide a means for seniors to be healthier, independent, and give them a higher-quality lifestyle," said Dr. Peter Cohen, chief of orthopedic surgery at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Pittsburgh and the director of the study.
The study involved 2,600 athletes participating in the 2001 Senior Olympics in Baton Rouge, La.
The Olympians "reported markedly better scores" on an overall quality-of-life test, Cohen said. They also scored "tremendously higher" than the average for their age on bone density tests.
However, 15 percent of the athletes reported cases of knee osteoarthritis. Members of this group were more likely to injure themselves in competition, and three times as likely to suffer knee injuries, often muscle pulls or torn ligaments.
Cohen said the study was biased in one respect.
"It costs athletes money to enter these games," he said. "Affluence and health probably translate together, and these people have a higher education in general."
Cohen added that the socialization the Senior Olympics provides is beneficial to competitors. "These people look forward to this not only as an annual competition but as socializing and traveling," he said.
The popularity of the senior games highlights an overall drive toward fitness for American seniors, and you don't have to be an Olympian to reap the benefits.
Brooke MacInnis, a spokeswoman for the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, said the over-55 population is the fastest-growing segment of American health club membership.
Since 1987 this membership segment has tripled. Health clubs are offering services like cardiac rehab to cater to senior members, and demand for classes in exercise techniques such as yoga and tai chi is up, since they are relatively easy on bones and joints.
Seniors are "very well-prepared consumers," said MacInnis. "The aging population is more concerned with being independent and active than they ever have been." > ON THE WEB: National Senior Games Association: www.nsga.com
Copyright 2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution