Learning from the Masters: The relationship between sport and physical activity in later life

Twitter hashtag: #esrcAgePA


Seminar Series Blog: www.ageingpa.tumblr.com Please visit the Schedule page and click on individual presentations to view the powerpoint slides from the day.

The seminar was designed to use the experiences of Master sportsmen and women to inform how we understand and address the problem of low physical activity participation in later life. Whilst we are all agreed that keeping moving is a good thing, regardless of age, nevertheless we need to keep a sense of balance on how we ‘sell’ this to people who do not perceive themselves as physically active. We need to take the barriers to physical activity seriously and refrain from blaming people for not fulfilling physical activity recommendations. From the lived experiences of Master athletes we hoped to learn some valuable lessons.

The day consisted of four formal presentations of recent research into Master sportsmen and women. We also had an unscheduled presentation from Dr Claire Perrin, from the Université Claude-Bernard in Lyon, who shared with us the findings of research on how people with Type 2 diabetes transcended their illness and developed fulfilling physical activity careers. The event ended with a panel discussion. Panellists were Master athletes and their brief was to describe how they had managed to forge a sporting career, what obstacles, if any, they had encountered, and how they had surmounted them.

Key themes and lessons came out of the day’s proceedings:

  • Cost is not always the barrier that is often put forward to explain low physical activity participation among excluded population groups. Explanations are more diverse and complex.
  • Being a Master athlete can be understood as a ‘career’ – with a trigger, key landmarks, the development of new social relationships and specialised training - although in most cases it’s not a well laid plan right from the start. It happens and then takes on a life of its own. The same applies to any sustained engagement with physical activity.
  • Specific structures (adapted physical activity classes, sports initiatives, coaching structures, competitions) are required to make physical activity an integral part of life. For instance Jogscotland has proven successful among women aged 35-50.
  • These structures also enable people to lay a claim to a physical activity identity, which helps maintain involvement.
  • We heard many stories of life enrichment and emancipation via sport and physical activity, especially among women, but this required being very determined and single-minded to resist ageist and sexist attitudes. For instance we heard the story of an older Swedish woman who formed a ladies’ ski club in her town because she was the only competitive skier of her gender and age.
  • More generally people need to feel that they have permission to take up a formal or informal physical activity and to continue on their chosen path.
  • Other people can play a key role, as mentors, givers of permission, givers of inspiration, team mates. Conversely they can discourage or even forbid. Thus other people matter.
  • Not everybody starts their career as a child. We heard stories of late starters who went on to thrive.
  • Being involved is not always about winning. Performance can be given meaning in many different ways. It often gives people a great sense of empowerment and gives them confidence in other aspects of their lives.
  • It can also mean helping others find their own path into sport or physical activity by coaching and actively supporting.
  • Being involved is not always about health either. Health concerns might be a trigger but they can be left behind as the career takes on a life of its own.
  • Injuries can compromise sporting careers at any point. Health care professionals need to be supportive of people who develop injuries to enable them to return to full participation.

Images courtesy of Alex Rotas http://www.alexrotasphotography.com


Our Partners / View all

A University of Exeter Medical School
AB European Centre for Environment & Human Health
AC University of Bath
Birmingham City Council

Registration is closed