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Lifetime Fitness Sports

If we want better health and lower health care costs, we should change school Physical Education programs. Instead of emphasizing team competition sports, the goal should be to get every student hooked on one or more "Lifetime Fitness" sports.
(Of course the introduction to lifetime fitness sports can and should begin at home prior to school age and should continue with encouragement and participation by parents.)


Lifetime Fitness Sports

by Pam Green, © 2017

A lot of K-12 school athletic programs emphasize competitive sports, expecially team sports, and promote development of elite athletes.

If we really want better health for our population and lower heath care costs, we need to shift school progams towards what I call "Lifetime Fitness Sports". These are sports that a person can enjoy and continue to practice throughout their lifetime and that will contribute to that person remaining fit and healthy.. This generally means that the activity is enjoyable and can be done as an individual or with only one playmate and that is modest in cost (or within the person's ability to pay).

When I began writing this, I was thinking mostly about sports in schools. But it's just as applicable to any individual's development of a personal health promotion plan. Ideally one regularly practices activites that promote balance , activities that promote flexibility, and activities that promote strength. That probably means some combination of activities, not necessarily done all on the same day, but at least one done almost every day. If you've been a couch potato, you will need to start gradually. If you have medical issues, it's wise to consult your doctor before beginning.

As for fitting physical activity into school schedules, there are many good reasons to lengthen the school day (and the school year) to be compatible with the work schedule of the parent, parents, or other child-rearer. A longer school day and year would accomodate not only sports, but health education (nutrition ed, honest sex ed, etc). It would accomodate remedial and advanced (as the individual needs) academic classes, especially in STEM subjects (so essential for future earning capacity), financial literacy classes (so essential to prevent one being easily victimized by scammers, lenders, one's own follies). It should accomodate music and art classes, thus promoting right-brain activity. (By the way, in my town, where art is included for all children, it's very impressive how capable many of them become. I cannot speak as to music, but inclusion of music as. a normal school activity has worked well in other countries, including very poor ones.)

Yes, this would add to school expenses, but in the long run society would save more by the enhanced employability and earning ability of the graduates, thus reducing welfare costs , possibly would also save on prison costs, certainly would save on health care costs.. Parents would save on nonn-educational child care costs covering nonn-school hours while parents must be at work. Ssince parents benefit immediately, they should be paying some of the added school costs, perhaps assessed as a certain percentage of parent's gross income or an income tax surtax, paid per child enrolled in school. .

Sports that do NOT contribute to lifetime fitness

Head trauma sports

Every sport that involves frequent blows to the player's head is NOT a fitness sport. Indeed, such sports create great risk of eventual brain damage. The poster child for this we now know is football. I'd eliminate football entirely from K-12 and ideally also from college (or at least eliminate football scholarships).. If the NFL wants to run its own youth program, I suppose there's no way of preventing that, not in a free society. Touch football would be a fine team sport during school years, but not likely to be continued in adult years because it's hard to assemble enough players.

Boxing would be another sport to eliminate. The various martial arts programs could simply be modificd to eliminate all blows to the head. Any blow to the head would be an automatic game loser for the one delivering that blow. Likewise soccer rules could prohibit any head to ball contact and make such contact an automatic game ender and loss for that team.

Sports that require a large number of players

Team sports are not inherrently bad and can be very enjoyable. They could be included but not over-emphasized. Competition could be largely intra-mural with opposing teams well matched so that each side has a similar chance to win. The emphasis should be on enjoyment.

The reason most team sports are not lifetime fitness sports is simply that in adult life it can be hard to get enough players together at the same time. Maybe I am wrong about this, since one sees that Bowling teams are fairly popular at adult ages. Still that's a sport than can also be practiced by the individual, team assembly only being needed periodically.

Basketball can be enjoyed as a one-on-one sport as well as being a team sport. And "pick-up" games seem to be easy to gather and play on public courts in parks. It's also a sport that would lend itself to the concept of matched opposing teams. Eg teams of people in the 5 foot to 5 foot 6 inches range could play each other, possibly with some adjustment of basket height. One-on-one or two-on-two can be played with a single hoop in someone's driveway or yard..

Sports that ARE good lifetime fitness sports.

Walking, speed-walking, jogging, etc

Walking is the Queen of Fitness Activities. You can start off as mildly as you need to and gradually work your way to better fitnness. It can be done at any age. It requires no special equipment , only good walking shoes that give proper support to the feet. (If you need orthotic inserts or orthopedic shoes, please do get them and wear them for 95% of all activities.) If you walk on a beach, you don't even need shoes. (Likewise walking on an indoor treadmill, but that's so boring.) Walking can be done alone or in company of a human friend or a dog. Walking can be combined with nature appreciation, bird watching, etc. The cost is negligible , although there might be admission fees for some parks that offer especially enjoyable trails.. The scheduling is flexible, so you can choose convenient times. About the only limitation on outdoor walking would be really adverse weather, adverse beyond what can be accomodated by appropriate clothing. (Maybe back to that boring treadmill. Or so some other indoor sport.)

Walking can be combined with other activities. One can stop at intervals to do stretching, and indeed doing some stretches before and after the walk is excellent. One can intersperse intervals of jogging, maybe just a few steps initially. Or intersperse an interval of speed-walking (anythinng a bit faster than your usual pace).

Jogging is similar to walking in being readily available and inexpensive. Having shoes that are orthopedically correct for your own feet and overall body conformation is even more improtant for jogging than for walking. Advice from a podiatrist would be a good investment.

Running would be the most intense. For the truely addicted there are marathons and ultra-marathons. Just thinking about those makes me tired.


Swimming is the ultimate low impact exercise. It can be done by those who have joint problems that would preclude other forms of exercise. Other exercises performed iwth water support are hugely helpful in physical rehabilitation.

Swimming requires only very simple equipment, ie a swimsuit. For those just learning, possibly a floatation device would give confidence. If swimming in natural lakes and rivers , a floatation device may be absolutely essential and may be legally mandated. (Some of our N California rivers can be deadly. Publically accessible lakes often do legally demand flotation devices for swimmers and boaterrs.)

While the cost of a private swiming pool is quite high to create and continues to be high for maintenance, there are public pools in most towns with use fees that tend to be moderate. Many apartment buildings have a pool for the use of their tenants. (This is one situation where an apartment renter has an advantage over a home owner.)./p>

If you do not know how to swim, some instruction is advised.. Check out the local YMCA / YWCA and similar organizattions for lessons. The local Red Cross may have a list, as they may be sponsoring Lifeguard training.

Swimming can be done alone, but it's safer to have a buddy. Children should never swim alone, but should have a supervisor or swim buddy.

One can add intensity by competing in races or by joining a synchronized swimming team This is going beyond simple personal fitness

By the way for long distance swimming competition, especially cold water long distance, women have the advantage over men.

Yoga , Tai Chi, Pilates, etc

Yoga and Tai Chi provide the fitness componennt of developing balance and flexibility. These qualities become more and more important as one ages, since these give the beneifit of making falls less likely and less injurious. Preventing falls is especially important for seniors. Yoga can be practiced into very old aage and can be begun at very young age. You may even find classes for Parent and Child yoga. Classes for Chair Yoga. Prenatal (ie pregnant woman) yoga.

Pilates gives similar benefits and maybe a bit more strength

A lot of teachers will combine elements of Pilates with Yoga, and some will add some strength building exercises with stretch bands and/or light hand held weights.

These systems can be done individually at home or can be done in groups in classes. Class can be motivating and provides schedule. (I'm one of those people who need a class to keep me doing yoga regulaly, but I don't need anything but my dogs to ensure I walk almost every day. You can figure out what works for you.)

The equipment needs are modest in cost and last a very very long time. A mat is the only essential, though other simple equipment is helpful.

For a school program, an added advantage of offering yoga and/or tai chi is that these emphasize menal focus. Focus is benefiial for any student but especially so for those who have any tendency towards "antsyness" or "hyperactivity" or "attention deficit". Yoga emphasizes a very calm focus, the student training himself to calm his mind at his own command. Tai Chi is somewhat more active and may appeal to those who wouldn't be as appreciative of Yoga. (By the way, Star Trek fans will recognize Tai Chi as the basis for Klingon exercise routeins practiced by Worf)

bicycle riding

Bicycling can be done at any age and at any level of inensity. An ordinary unintense cruissing along a greenbelt can be delightful. Bicyling to work or on errands (with a cargo cart if needed) can be practical and very expense saving (no car costs).

One can bike alone or in company.

Equipment is a bicycle and a good quality safety helmet. Also reflectors and lights and a reflective vest, even if you don't plan to be out at night (because you might find yourself out after dark even when you didn't plan to be).. While bicycles can be hugely expensive, a very modestly priced bike will give you plenty of exercisse and enjoyment. Try the annual Police auction or local Thrift Store if you need a bargain. But make damn sure to get the most protective helmet you possibly can find. (Two of my acquaintences were saved from serious brain damage by their helmets in impacts so severe that the helmet shattered but the person's head was spared injury.)

Of course you must ride only in places where you have adequate safety from being hit by cars. An isolated bike path is the best, but a bicycle lane can be good if it's in an area where car drivers are civilized.

In a school setting, bicycling would probably be in groups on the school athletic track. Perhaps the outer lanes of the ttrack would be for the bikes, the inner lanes for the walkers, and the middle lanes for the joggerss and runners. Groups yoga and tai chi on the infield.

Zumba and other fitness dancing

Various kinds of fitnesss dancing are relatively new. Zumba. Jazzercise. Probably a lot of names I don't know. Check for classes at high school adult ed, gyms, etc.

Equipment needs are modest, just the same kind of active wear that you'd use for yoga. Done barefoot, so no special shoes.

Probably more fun to do in company, but there's no reason not to do it alone. Just you and your music source. "just me and my iPod, dancing in my living room"

More conventional ballroom dancing and ballet and modern dance are also highly athletic and can be enjoyable fitness activiites.

Tennis (and badmenton, maybe racquet-ball)

Probably not as well adapted to school use, because you need courts. But several grass courts could be set up on the track infield. Or the school basketball court(s) could be easily modified (removable net in center) to serve double duty. .

Tennis can be played at varying degrees of intensity so long as players are well matched or agree on level of play, or the golf concept of "handicap" points could be adopted.. While tennis does require a second person, it may not be hard to find someone to play with. (You probably can do solo vollying against a wall.)

Very few people will have their own court, but there are plenty of parks that have public courts. You probably have to reserve a time slot at the public court. Ideally the public courts would also have a bulletin board or other system for people seeking someone to play with to post their request (times available, level of play, etc). If your local park doesn't have a bulletin board, go to city council and ask for one, either a phyissical one or a digital one on the city web site.

Equipment is a racquet and a good pair of tennis shoes. Comfortable clothes. that allow free movement.

(Note : my mother played tennis with similar aged friends until she was in her early 80's.. Not a very fast paced or aggressive game, and players would rotate in and out, but they enjoyed it and it helped maintain fitness.)

The once caveat I can see is that tennis can tend to develop (strengthen) one side of the body more than the other. This is not unavoidable of course, as one can choose to deliberately work as much on the less facile arm.

Ice skating (especially in cold climates)

Just plain "for fun" skating on an outdoor winter pond is accessible people and can be done at your own degree of intensity. Some communities (eg Sacramento) in non-cold climates, as well as communities in cold-winntter climates, have artificial outdoor rinks set up during a winter period. These seem to be fairly popular. Equipment is a properly fitted pair of skates, sharpened blades at intervals, and appropriate clothing. A couple of lesons are probably advisable.

Figure skating and speed skating are highly athletic fitness activities. There are figure skating clubs and classes in many communities. Learning the basics is probably accessible and affordable. If you get caught up in competition, this gets to be an expensive sport as you progrress to higher levels. I can't really comment on speed skatting.

Ice hockey has the reputation of promoting violence in players and audience, (jokes about "I went to a riot and a hockey game broke out"), but I don't see why this has to be inevitable. In schools, good sportsmanship must be emphasized in ALL sports, and bad sportsmanship and injuring opponnents must never be tolorated. The problem with ice hockey as a lifetime sport is the need to assemble enough players for two teams. But it's possible to do some one-on-one. Good safety equipment is essential because that fast flying puck can do serious damage.

Horse-back riding

A lot of people would say this doesn't belong on this list. Very few schools offer horsemanship, and those are mostly private schools.. And the essential "equipment", the horse, is usually expensive to acquire and expensive to maintain. A good protective helmet is highly advised. Lessons are mandatory when one is beginnning.

But, as Winston Churchill observed, "no hour of life is lost that is spent in the saddle". Ditto if you ride bareback. "The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man" -- and even better for the inside of a woman !!!

Riding is a sport and a communion that can be done for one's entire lifetime, though one's choice of equine partner may change from the fiery magnificent Walter-Farley-would-covet steed of one's youth and maturity to the reliable and bomb-proof equine companion suitable for one's seniority.

Riding can of course be done by yourself, ie with only the horse as company, or in company with other riders and their horses. (In a group, it's important to keep the ride within the abilities of the least able pair.) The natural beauty accessible by horseback can be marverlous.

If you become a fairly accomplished horseperson and have earned a solid reputation that a horse will become better because you have ridden him, you will be able to be invited to ride horses owned and maintained by others. Horsepeople often find themselves with more horses than they can keep well exercised. Thus a skilled and reliable rider gains invitations. One bit of advice : before you get on a horse, observe that horse being ridden by someone else, someone who is not significantly more skilled than yourself.. (This is even more true if you are buying a horse, and I learned tthis in a very painful fashion.)

There's a huge variety of competitive activiities available in the equestrian realm. Dressage can be continued into old age, until you fall out of the saddle dead of a heart attack (as happened to one Head of the Spanish Riding School). Or perhaps you break your neck in a fall galloping after hounds or competing in Three Day Event or in Steeplechase. And to quote Churchill agan, breaking one's neck in a fall taken at the gallop "is a very good death to die".

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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 9/19/2017 revised 9/24/2017
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