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AARP AARP States Health & Wellbeing

Fitness at 50-Plus: Options Abound

Rena Grant, 92, of Myrtle Beach, is a pickleball enthusiast. Photo by Andrew Sherman

By Linda H. Lamb

Life has never been a spectator sport for Rena Grant, of Myrtle Beach. She had an active childhood on a farm, a defense plant job during World War II, a career teaching phys ed to schoolchildren—and now she has pickleball.

“It’s a great sport for seniors,” said Grant, 92, who’s looking forward to competing in this month’s South Carolina Senior Sports Classic. She has enjoyed other sports, including track, basketball and volleyball, but recently she has focused on pickleball—sort of a hybrid of tennis, badminton and Ping-Pong. She loves teaching it, too.

“I tell people, once you learn this game and get a paddle in your hand, you’ll be addicted,” she said.

Pickleball is just one of the 26 sports featured at the Sports Classic, to be held May 18-21 at Francis Marion University in Florence. AARP South Carolina is a sponsor of the event, which includes competition in basketball, softball, swimming, cycling, bowling and golf for those 50 and older. Registration is now closed, but spectators are welcome.

Participants come from local Senior Games, which lead up to the statewide event, held every other year in Florence.

“The Senior Games are just inspirational,” said Teresa Arnold, state director of AARP South Carolina. “They get people up and moving, and being active improves their mood, too.”

There’s plenty of fun and socializing at Sports Classic events. But Arnold said they also underscore the serious need for older South Carolinians to get more exercise.

“Sometimes a problem like a minor stroke or a heart attack gets people motivated to exercise, but it’s better to start before there’s a problem,” Arnold said.

Research shows that exercise can help people stay sharp mentally. It also can help keep them strong and flexible. But only about 30 percent of people ages 45 to 64 use their leisure time to exercise regularly, and that falls to 25 percent for those 65 to 74, and 11 percent for those 85 and older, according to the National Institute on Aging.

Ways to stay active
One concern about a sedentary lifestyle is that it increases obesity. That’s a major problem in South Carolina, with the 10th highest adult obesity rate in the nation, at about 32 percent.

“We want to encourage people that you don’t have to join a gym to be active,” said Patrick Cobb, communications director for AARP South Carolina, noting that activities like gardening and dancing count as exercise.

The Alliance for a Healthier South Carolina also spurs state residents to be more active, citing the worrisome link between obesity and disease. Carrying extra weight means a greater risk for stroke, heart ailments and type 2 diabetes.

There are many local options for getting active. County agencies on aging, community recreation centers and YMCA branches often provide programs for older adults.

Columbia’s Lourie Center boasts about 700 members 50 and older and a revolving roster of activities. Options include dancing, yoga and Pilates, said Sandra Owensby, the executive director, adding that the programs help older people age in place and remain independent in their homes.

A popular class is tai chi, which involves slow, deliberate movements. “It’s very beneficial, especially for balance,” Owensby said.

You can even be more active sitting down. A University of South Carolina School of Medicine booklet on seated exercises will show you how at

Check with your doctor before you begin any physical activity program. The National Institute on Aging advises older adults to start slowly, increase activity gradually and use safety equipment. Don’t hold your breath, and do pause to drink fluids.

Grant, who will be inducted this month into the Senior Sports Classic Hall of Fame, said she has avoided serious health problems and takes only one prescription medication.

“I can’t get the drop shots I used to get,” she said, laughing. “But I thank God for still being active, with the great support of friends and family.”

Linda H. Lamb is a writer living in Columbia.

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