Think the martial arts are just for young people? Think again. The number of martial arts classes in retirement communities will blow you away. Granted, we’re not talking BJJ, but qigong, tai chi, karate, and many styles of yoga have made their way into the fitness routines of our senior population, and for good reason.
Today’s seniors are rushing headlong into martial arts for many of the same reasons the younger set does it: physical fitness, self-defense, social opportunities, improving bone mass and stability, even preserving and improving mental function. The kicker for the retired population is that they are keenly aware of physical limitations that come along with aging. So you have to give up the 16-pound bowling ball and maybe you’ve run your last triathlon, but just because you have new, physical, age-related limitations doesn’t mean your active life has to take a seat on the couch.
Some of the most popular fitness activities in retirement communities are in the martial arts precisely because they encourage that active lifestyle to continue in a new, engaging and healthful way. Even seniors who’ve never tried a martial art before are discovering that the body-weight movements of tai chi, yoga, and qigong help alleviate stress, improve bone density, keep muscle groups loose, and can actually build strength. As concerns rise over falls in the later years, improving a sense of balance becomes even more important. The focused movements and forms of the arts help seniors recover confidence and stability, and may even prevent those falls in the first place. Certainly a fitness routine that focuses on the physical and mental needs of seniors deserves a place in every retirement community.
But perhaps one of the most enjoyable aspects of the martial arts in these senior communities is the sense of something akin to the ol’ team spirit. Group martial arts classes offer an a common activity, like team sports in the younger days, and an opportunity for socialization. Sure there are bridge clubs, book clubs, and water aerobics classes. But nothing combines the social, mental, and physical practices that the martial arts do. And they present a challenge. Perhaps that is the most important gift they can offer the aging community – a drive to try something new, something difficult, something to reach for.