Sports medicine, long geared to the needs of young athletes, is branching out to help older people remain active and athletically competitive as they age. Those over age 55 make up the fastest-growing segment of health-club members: There were 8.5 million in 2006, up from 1.5 million about 20 years ago, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association. Doctors say they're seeing greater numbers of patients playing sports into older age, and masters events are increasingly popular. Balance, in particular, is emerging as an important element for older people, according to doctors, researchers and the guidelines. Older muscles are smaller and slower and respond less efficiently when we need to brace ourselves, making us more vulnerable to falls, says Marjorie Woollacott, director of the Motor Control Lab at the University of Oregon's Department of Human Physiology in Eugene. Experts suggest using balance boards and balls, and challenging your body while doing activities, such as by running up and down a curb rather than sticking to flat ground, says Waneen Spirduso, professor of kinesiology and health education at the University of Texas-Austin, who researches how the body's motor system changes with age. Variety -- or cross-training -- is also important for everyone, say sports-medicine doctors, but particularly for older individuals, whose bodies may not be able to handle extreme stress on certain body parts, leading to injury.
The Wall Street Journal
Senior Play: The Graying Of Sports Medicine