A Victoria University sport participation expert says a $23 million federal government fund to encourage Australian seniors to move more is tackling a long-ignored and growing problem.
Her research shows only 1.2 per cent of Australians aged 50 to 54, and fewer than 0.5 per cent over 55, play sport. That compares with 40 per cent of 10 to 14-year-olds, Australia’s peak age group for sport participation.
While physical activity in later life is proven to offer significant health and social benefits, older Australians are not getting the message that physical activity is important.
“This is an age group we need to target because within the next 40 years we’ll have close to 9 million people aged 65 or over, representing more than 20 per cent of the population.”
Sport Australia (formerly the Australian Sport Commission) is delivering the Better Ageing program. Its new sport strategy, Sport 2030, is a 12-year plan highlighting for the first time in Australian history the idea that national sport policy must focus on more than competition sport.
In its goal to make Australia the world’s most active sporting nation, it is focusing on new and evolving activities such as ‘ninja’-style obstacle courses and stand-up paddle-boarding under the umbrella of ‘sport’.
Dr Eime said it is critical that older Australians are not ignored in this new overarching plan.
“Since this demographic has never been core business for the vast majority of sporting organisations, my hope is that the sector doesn’t simply use this funding to focus on activities like ‘walking’ as an easy and uninspired option for older Australians.”
Dr Eime said the Better Ageing funding offered a real opportunity to research the needs, desires and capabilities of older adults, modify sports, and develop new leisure activities for seniors.
For example, sports such as cricket could be adapted for seniors with shorter wickets and game times, and softer balls, she said. Clubs and communities must also consider installing the right infrastructure to accommodate older adults, such as ramps and handrails.
Dr Eime said older Australians had different reasons for participating in sport, with research proving that it helps them improve social connectedness and reduces social isolation.
“A 65-year-old doesn’t want to play against a 20-year-old even though they may be lumped together in an adult league,” she said.
Dr Eime said that without sustainable sport policy and governance changes at all levels, attempts to encourage older Australians into sport and other physical activities risk falling over once the Better Ageing investment stops. ENDS
Dr Rochelle Eime of VU’s Institute for Sport and Health is available for interview on 0418 800 521.