Mark Orams: Active for life

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Image / iStock
Image / iStock

New Zealand's population is aging. By that I mean our population has proportionally larger numbers over the age of 60 than ever before.

This means more and more of us are heading towards the final third of our lives. At 53 years of age, I include myself in this group. So what does the future look like for me and others as we head into our "golden years"?

The first thing I find is that for me and most of my friends at a similar stage of life, we are far more physically active than our parent's generation - and we intend to continue being active. In fact, most of us aspire to reaching the stage when we can work less and play more.

Our desire is to increase our active involvement with sports and recreational activities that we have had long love affairs with: cycling, surfing, tennis, tramping, skiing, fishing, sailing and so on. So, kicking back in the arm chair and boring others with stories about how great we once were is not the intention (although, to be honest, some of that still goes on).

A second trend is that we are prepared to spend time, money and effort in retaining, or even improving, our ability to remain active and competitive. Using personal trainers; regular fitness, strength, and flexibility routines; purchasing and using high quality and often expensive devices and equipment; and upskilling ourselves through coaching, training and competing are all seen as worthy investments.

Finally, for those of us who are committed to remaining active and who do not see life as a spectator sport (irrespective of age, injuries and "wear and tear"), challenges become increasingly frequent.

A tip from me is to never ask a master's athlete how they are - unless you're ready for a thirty-minute conversation on knee, back, hip, neck, shoulder, and other broken body issues. The physiotherapy and sports medicine professions make a good living out of older athletes. The point is that we will invest in medical - even surgical - treatments and other health interventions in order to remain active and competitive.

So why is this active aging trend so prevalent? The answer lies in the increasing understanding that remaining active has a massive influence on our quality of life and personal wellness. In short, it keeps us healthy and happy.

There is widespread evidence that being physically active is not only helpful for our physiology, but also contributes to mental well-being, social well-being and even spiritual well-being. Put simply, humans are meant to be active. When we stop being so we atrophy, wasting away and losing capabilities - and we experience the negative effects at every level of the human experience.

I should add that this does not require us to be "athletes" in the competitive, elite sense of the word. Rather, activity can be as simple as going for a walk, a swim, or a twenty-minute bike ride with friends. Any and all of this will make you feel good! Perhaps these small steps, strokes and pedal revolutions will even inspire you to make activity a regular and central part of your life - or the chance of competing in the World Master's Games could be a great incentive.

The World Master's Games are being hosted in Auckland in a year's time (April 21-30, 2017). 28 sports over 10 days, with around 25,000 participants from all over the world - we are talking serious fun. Go on, have a go; get into it and live life to its fullest. After all, isn't that what it's all about?

Professor Mark Orams is Head of the School of Sport and Recreation at Auckland University of Technology. He is a multiple national and world masters champion in sailing, and a previous winner of the Halberg Sports Team of the Year Award as a crew member of Steinlager 2 - Sir Peter Blake's winning campaign in the 1990 Round the World Yacht Race.

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