Organised sport, as one form of physical activity, provides an excellent opportunity for older adults to be active in an enjoyable setting. In addition to personal enjoyment, regular physical activity can improve physical and mental health, with the potential to improve overall quality of life. Furthermore, club-based or team-based sport participation has been associated with better social health, due to the interactive nature of participation. However, despite the known benefits of sport participation, there is a decline with age. The overall aim of this report is to provide knowledge about sport participation among the population of aging adults in Australia. For the purpose of this report, the age of 50+ years has been used and is referred to as ’older adults’. The specific aims of this report are:
- to improve our knowledge about sport participation by older adults;
- to summarise what is known about the benefits of sports participation and the barriers faced by older adults, and;
- to provide information about the opportunities, strategies and potential modifications that may increase sport participation by older adults.
Data were used from two population-based surveys, the 2010 Exercise Recreation and Sport Survey (ERASS) and the 2013 Australian Health and Social Science study (AHSS). In addition, surveys from 192 National and State/Territory Sporting Organisations (NSOs and SSOs); plus eight focus group interviews were conducted, that included both sport club members and non-sport club individuals.
Overall, about a third of active (i.e. not limited by illness or physical disability) older adults participate in a wide variety of sports at varying levels of intensity. Men are more likely to participate than women. This study found that age in itself is not necessarily a reason to stop participating in sport; it also confirms the many health benefits of sport participation for older adults – provided the activity is done in a safe manner to prevent injuries. Many older adults participate in sport for social as well as health reasons, and enjoy the opportunity to engage in activities with family members across generations. It was found that sporting organisations (NSOs and SSOs) currently prioritise their programs for youth (children, adolescents and young adults), and not specifically for older adults. Sporting organisations generally lack the resources and capacity to develop specific sport products/programs for older adults. This report acknowledged the contribution made by older adults to sports clubs and organisations through their participation in non-playing roles; such as volunteers, coaches, officials, and administrators.
Key findings from this report include:
- 30% of all older adults who do physical activity for recreation, sport or exercise do this in a club setting. This participation rate is lower than for younger adults (46%).
- Golf, Bowls and Tennis are the three most frequently played club-based sports by older adults.
- 38% of health enhancing physical activity (organised and non-organised) in older adults is sport based; this is lower than sport-based activity in younger adults (58%).
- Older men do more physical activity in a club setting than women (15% vs 9%) and they do more sport-based health enhancing physical activity than women (45% vs 30%).
- About one third (34%) of older adults are current members of a sport club, association or other type of organisation; just over one third (37%) are past members; and just under one third (30%) have never been a member.
- Among club members, the vast majority (90%) play sport, and 20% are also involved as a committee member or administrator (usually in a volunteer capacity).
- Older adults who are members of a sport club are more likely to meet the physical activity guidelines of at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity per week than non-club members.
- Regardless of past membership status or gender, social reasons and becoming more active to improve physical and mental health are the most important factors in becoming a sport club member.
- The most frequently mentioned barriers to sport participation are time constraints, lack of appropriate playing opportunities, and physical limitations.
Based upon participation data and preferences of older adults, this report identified a number of opportunities. First, formal programs for Masters’ competition are not well promoted; many older adults were unaware of these opportunities. Informal programs for older adults are generally supported by a ‘bottom up’ approach, with sport clubs the primary driver (rather and strategically driven by NSOs and SSOs) and programs for older adults usually sit outside the established sporting structure. Most NSOs and SSOs do not have specific strategies to address the preferences of older adults. Opportunities exist for sporting organisations to market sporting experiences to older adults that emphasise the social aspects of sport, enjoyment and health benefits of regular participation. Greater collaboration between sporting organisations and community/seniors organisations could also drive increased participation. Finally, potential modifications of existing programs should focus on informal playing opportunities, amended rules, and developing external partnerships with non-sporting organisations that are focused on older adults.