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Lifelong athletes prove age doesn’t dictate the score

Older adults are challenging the stereotypes of what aging looks like.

In the summer of 2023, more than 11,000 athletes ages 50 and older competed in the biennial National Senior Games in Pittsburgh. Jim Goodman, 71, a swimmer from Penobscot, Maine, brought home three silver medals and two sixth-place ribbons.

Since retiring from a 30-year career in the Navy in 2003, Goodman has been a swim coach at Ellsworth High School and at two local YMCAs. In these roles, he teaches the sport he has enjoyed throughout his life to community members ranging from about six years old to 80 years old.

“I tell my kids, ‘You’re always first in your lane,’ You’ve got to realize there’s going to be a lot of swimmers who are going to be faster, and you’re going to be faster than a lot of swimmers, so you just do the best you can and have fun doing it.” Jim Goodman

No matter your preferred sport or level of competition, staying physically active as you age can result in life-changing wins. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), regular physical activity can prevent or delay many health problems associated with aging. The CDC also reports that it improves sleep, helps people live independently for longer, and reduces the risk of dementia, heart diseases, certain cancers, and more.


Physical and mental gains 

When Carol Walsh, 70, was growing up, “It wasn’t really encouraged for girls to be athletic,” she says. “What you could do was either be a cheerleader or a baton twirler or play in the band. I played in the band.”

Woman poses for a photo while standing on a dirt trial that overlooks the waterfront.
Carol Walsh poses in front of a scenic view while on a hike.

In her 20s, Walsh found that getting fresh air and moving her body, no matter the activity, helped boost her mood, especially in the dark of winter. Over the years, she tried skiing, tennis, racquetball, biking, walking, hiking, kayaking, weight training — and now pickleball.

“Pickleball, right now, is my passion,” she says. 

Though she doesn’t consider herself an athlete, Walsh is on the court near her hometown of Shrewsbury, Mass., five or six days a week. All these years later, she still finds that sports improve her mood and mental well-being. “It clears the cobwebs out of my head,” she says.

Goodman agrees. “It’s a great stress reducer,” he says. “Swimming is one focus that kind of distracts from all the other problems in the world because you get in the water and you’re focused on stroke technique. You’re focused on counting the laps, doing the laps, and getting the exercise you want. You do that for an hour or so a day, and it really does help mentally. I feel very refreshed coming out of the water. I may feel very tired, but I feel very refreshed.”

For Marlborough, Mass., resident Jeff Sturges, 76, who participates in skiing, soccer, rowing, and pickleball clubs, sports offer a healthy dose of exhilaration and excitement.

“I got that feeling when I participated in varsity college sports, but strangely enough, you still get that feeling of competitive excitement, if you will, whether you’re playing friendly pickleball or you’re playing friendly indoor soccer or you’re ski racing.” — Jeff Sturges

Walsh also credits staying physically active with affording her the daily fitness she uses as a new grandmother. “I’m able, at 70, to run around, run after [my grandson],” she says. “I get down on the floor and play with him.” 


Social gains

Keeping your social muscles in shape can be another significant benefit of playing sports, considering that more than one-third of adults age 45 and older feel lonely, according to a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report. In addition to being an emotional challenge, loneliness can have serious health consequences, including an increased risk of dementia and other medical conditions.

Sturges’ soccer team has what they call a “third half” to eat, drink, and socialize after games on Sundays. “We sit around and commiserate about the game,” he says. “Regardless of the result, we all seem to have a pretty nice time.”

Three women smile for the camera while washing their hands at a cosmetic store.
Carol Walsh and her pickleball friends spend quality time outside the court.

Walsh regularly gets together with her pickleball friends off the court, too. Like any good friends, they offer each other support when life “doesn’t go as planned,” she says. For instance, when Walsh had open heart surgery to repair a mitral valve rupture, her friends from pickleball drove her to doctor’s appointments and brought her meals.

Holistic health tips

For those looking to be more active, Walsh recommends pickleball. When she first started, she was “completely horrible,” she says, “But they were so welcoming… That was the thing that struck me. The people were so nice. They didn’t care that I couldn’t get a serve in, or I missed the ball or whatever it was. It was just really a fun time and I found that I really got jazzed up by the exercise portion of it.” 

If pickleball isn’t your speed, that’s okay. Walsh also recommends trying free, accessible activities like walking. “Just get your body moving,” she says. “You will be rewarded ten times over just in the way that you feel.”

Older adults often face physical limitations, but not being able to do everything doesn’t mean they can’t do anything. Sturges has had several knee operations and when skiing and soccer are too hard on his joints, he leans into rowing for a low-impact, full-body workout. “When you’re outside on the lake, you get the sights, the sounds, the smells, the outdoors. You can push yourself hard if you’re getting ready for a race, but you can also do it in a relaxed fashion,” he says. 

He recommends rowing and cycling to older adults looking for a new sport. In early June, those interested can join Learn to Row Day, sponsored by USRowing, at a participating boathouse near them to learn the basics. 

Man in a grey shirt wearing a medal standing in front of an indoor swimming pool.
Swim coach Jim Goodman poses in front of a swimming pool.

In addition to staying physically active, Goodman, Walsh, and Sturges all recommend staying up to date on health care visits, including regular appointments at the doctor and dentist. 

Through sports of all kinds and levels, there’s a growing number of older adults who are staying in the game — and inspiring others to do the same. “It’s just amazing what seniors can do,” Walsh says. “I play pickleball with an 85-year-old lady; she is a spitfire. She golfs, she plays pickleball, she rides her bike, she kayaks, she’s always going… The things that I’m seeing now with seniors are becoming more and more normal.”

Tufts Health Plan, a Point32Health company, has Massachusetts-based Medicare Advantage plans to support those who are aging strong. To learn more about your Medicare options, call Tufts Medicare experts at 1-877-212-9768 or visit — and read on for more stories from Tufts Health Plan.


This content was written by the advertiser and edited by Studio/B to uphold The Boston Globe's content standards. The news and editorial departments of The Boston Globe had no role in its writing, production, or display.