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Posted 04 May 2017

The new retirees: it's all kicking off for later-life sports

From stairclimbing skyscrapers to walking football and ultra-marathon running, over-50s across the UK are rejecting the notion of traditional retirement and enjoying being more active than ever. Tony Watts (@tonywattswriter) talks to three people who are redefining retirement.

  • How three people are staying active in later life
  • Need a challenge? Consider fundraising for charity
  • The athletes’ seven tips to restarting a sport

One step at a time

Fancy making a step change in your level of fitness? Then get stairclimbing. It’s not just a great way to burn fat, build muscle and get your cardiovascular system buzzing – it can also raise much-needed funds for charity, as 77-year-old Arthur Croker is hoping to prove later this year.

In October, Arthur will be lining up alongside competitors many years younger than he is to take on the Gherkin Challenge – 1037 steps over 180 metres, ascending one of the country’s most iconic buildings. How do you prepare for such a specialist event?

‘Luckily, I have a really good training course round the corner from where I live,’ says Arthur. ‘Jacob’s Ladder, which takes a direct route up part of Cheddar Gorge, is 274 steps – so I’m working up to do it four times in a row.’

For cross training, Arthur is warming up with the South Downs Trekathon in June: 26 miles of hard walking over the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head, again raising funds for the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity


‘I played a lot of rugby in the past,’ he says, ‘and I still love setting myself a challenge. I’ve done the London Marathon recently, so the distance doesn’t worry me!’

Taking the heat

Just two years younger than Arthur, David Exell had his eyes on an even more daunting challenge: the fearsome Marathon des Sables, which comprised running, walking or jogging 150 miles over six days across the Sahara in temperatures that can top 50 degrees Celsius.

David completed the Marathon des Sables, becoming the oldest Briton to ever do so. He completed it for charity, his chosen good cause was the Bristol Area Stroke Foundation.

‘My training regime included two-hour night runs across some of the steepest parts of the Mendips, as well as gruelling sessions on a treadmill in heat chambers – both while wearing 10kg back packs filled with my grandchildren’s dumbbells!’

David Excell running with his dog

To make sure he stayed on track he had his faithful companion, Dora the Labrador/Collie cross, to keep him company during training – complete with her own flashing collar.

They don’t think it’s all over…

If all this sounds rather exhausting, and your preference is for team over individual sporting activities, then Allen Baynes has the perfect answer: walking football.

Allen was a keen player in his youth – though, as he readily admits, at a modest level in his native Liverpool. But when a good friend suggested he take it up again, this time playing walking football in a team organised by his local Age UK group in Shrewsbury, he was less than enthusiastic.

‘I thought he was joking,’ says Allen. ‘How can you play football at a walking pace? But I gave it a go, and ten minutes in I turned to my mate and said, ‘This is brilliant!’

Allen Baynes with his sports team

‘Now it’s an essential part of my week, turning up to play with up to 40 other local men aged right up to their 80s. It’s fantastic exercise, but not too strenuous for those who aren't that fit or have medical conditions. We have players who have had heart bypasses and, of course, plenty with hip and knee replacements. One chap comes in when he’s able to between chemo sessions. Everyone is incredibly supportive.

‘We play in teams graded by age, each game lasting 15 minutes, in a ‘round robin’ against other sides. At Shrewsbury that means we get around an hour of exercise. We also play in local competitions – which can get very serious!’

‘The camaraderie is fantastic,’ says Allen, ‘and so is the banter! Most importantly, it gets men out of their daily routine, some of whom are living alone and so fairly isolated, and talking to each other – often about subjects, like health, that men often avoid.’

If you’d like to know about clubs in your area, check out Walking Football United’s ‘find a club’ page.

And if football is not your thing, what about walking netball?

Seven top tips for taking up sport in later life

Thinking of taking up a sport yourself? Here are our retirees’ helpful suggestions for ways to ease yourself back in!

  • If you aren’t already doing regular exercise, do have a health check with your GP first. They’ll have helpful advice on what they think you could beneficially and safely take on.
  • Start gently and build up slowly – you’ll be amazed at how quickly you improve.
  • Joining a gym can be a great way to build up muscles – many offer discounted membership, if you go at quieter times
  • Warm up before exercising and ease yourself into anything you do with regular stretches.
  • If impact exercises hurt your joints, think about gentler activities, such as swimming or cycling.
  • Setting yourself a target, such as raising funds for charity, can be a helpful motivator to get back into shape.
  • Don’t feel embarrassed: go to any distance running or cycling event, for instance, and you’ll find people of all ages. Sport and exercise are for everybody

You can read about more inspiring older athletes in our article about staying fit and active, or find out about other people redefining retirement in the first of our new retirees series.

You can follow Tony Watts on Twitter @tonywattswriter for more articles about staying active in later life.

For advice on how to plan financially for your retirement, contact the LV= Pension Specialists.

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