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Sport and the ageing population

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the experience of people’s later years is changing. Typically this new old age is presented as being characterised by greater life expectancy (and therefore more years in retirement), better health and greater affluence. Certainly the image of old age has shifted, though ageism seems unabated. What would be deemed prejudicial actions and beliefs if directed towards women and minority ethnic groups pass without comment when denigrating older people. The perception of a healthier old age warrants qualified support. Not only do people live to older ages, but also for the most part holding age constant does suggest there is better health.

It seems that Sport England is allowing the debate [about older people] to be dominated by a single discourse that equates participation in sport and physical activity with a limited range of physiological benefits, ignoring even things like suppleness/flexibility that might be delivered by a different kind of participation. Beyond that the major contributions to mental health and social connectedness that have been identified are being undervalued. At first sight it might appear that whatever the desired benefit the necessary first step is participation. Unfortunately this assessment is only partial on at least three counts.

Some sports may be relatively poor at providing the intensity of activity necessary to deliver the kind of cardio-vascular returns that seem to set the current ‘gold standard’ of participation. Stamina and flexibility may be better delivered by different sports. Equally, some sports may make a major contribution to social and psychological wellbeing while falling short in cardio-vascular terms.

The social and psychological benefits may be derived from lower frequencies of involvement. Granovetter (1973) among others has highlighted the strength of ‘weak ties’ in binding contemporary society and offering valuable social support. To those ends it may be that playing tennis with one group of people half a dozen times in the summer and pool with a fluctuating set of people each Wednesday lunchtime from November to February provide important connectivity. Moreover, these social and psychological benefits may be delivered just as well by spectating and volunteering in sport as by participation in the activity itself.

Take the matter seriously – The message is clear and should provide a wake-up call for Sport England and the sporting community generally. Such a large (and growing) part of the population (18 million aged 60+ by 2026 and a further 8 million if the threshold is taken as 50) cannot be left out of the reckoning if Sport England is serious about substantially increasing the nation’s participation levels



 editors comments   

Editor's comments - [  This is an academic review paper commissioned by Sport England as contextual analysis to inform the preparation of the Framework for sport in England and part of a series of desk studies called Driving up Participation: The Challenge for Sport. ]  Reference this?Cryer, J. (Year). This page title in italics. Retrieved date, from <this page's full URL>

In the text: Cryer (year)


APA reference for this document


Reference : Long, J. (2004). Sport and the ageing population: Do older people have a place in driving up participation in sport? Leeds: Centre for Leisure and sport research. Leeds Metropolitan University

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Download this file (dupageing2004.pdf)dupageing2004.pdfLong, J. (2004). Sport and the ageing population: Do older people have a place in driving up participation in sport? Leeds: Centre for Leisure and sport research. Leeds Metropolitan University
Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 March 2009 13:03  

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