The Top 5 Sports for Senior Citizens

In recent years, medical science has discovered that human beings not only have the ability to stave off brain degeneration, but they can improve brain function throughout life. Physical exercise is listed as one of the best ways to improve cognitive functioning, by Psychology Today magazine. Specifically, performance of sports involving complex motor tasks and an aerobic component increase the number of synapses, which are connections between neurons, as well as spur the birth of new brain neurons (neurogenesis).

Senior Citizens Sitting on Bench

Photography by Neovain CC)

5 Sports that Improve Cognitive Function in Senior Citizens

A number of studies report correlations between neurogenesis and learning, long-term memory function, and movement response time. Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences states that “Exercise training increases size of the hippocampus and improves memory.” The Journal of Gerontology reports that, in older individuals, “moderate-to-high levels of physical exercise has beneficial effects on the planning and execution of a response, as well as on the executive functions mediated by the PFC (pre-frontal cortex).”

While scientific knowledge concerning the fact that the brain can create new neurons is relatively new, other positive effects of exercise for the elderly have long been known. Some of these effects include lower incidence of chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular and coronary heart diseases. Recent studies suggest that physical exercise also protects against dementia. Additionally, participation in sports enhance a sense of emotional well-being by providing social interaction and vigorous fun.

While senior citizens are often limited in their mobility, this condition is no barrier to achieving the health benefits gained from playing sports. And although the outdoor sports games listed below are particularly accommodating to the elderly, the health benefits they offer occur for people of all ages.

1. Ping-Pong (Table Tennis)

Ping Pong Paddle and Ping Pong Ball Close Up

Photography by Sport Nottinghamshire CC)

Ping-Pong, an Olympic sport, is a high action game that involves aerobic activity, as well as use of strategy. It is often referred to as “high speed chess.” In fact, just like with chess, a game of table tennis highly activates a player’s prefrontal cortex.

This stimulation occurs because a player must make quick predictions concerning what move just took place and what move must now be performed. (See Dr. Wendy Suzuki, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at New York University explaining why ping pong is the best brain sport.)

2. Table Shuffle Board

Triceratops on a Shuffleboard Table

Photography by Kumar McMillan (CC)

Table shuffle board is great for seniors because it can be played sitting or standing. It helps to develop eye-hand coordination because it requires finesse and a soft touch. Like table tennis, the strategy, precision, and quick hand movements required during play stimulate the prefrontal cortex. Plus, shuffle board is often a very social and entertaining past time.

According to Shirl J. Hoffman, Professor of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, “how you feel when and after you engage in a physical activity can determine whether you return to it in the future.” Shuffleboard tournaments occur all over the country, the largest being the biennial competition held by the National Senior Games Association. The largest multi-sport event in the world for seniors, it is held in a different host city each year.

3. Bocce Ball

Boccee Ball Tournament

Photography by John Mayer (CC)

Bocce Ball is an ancient sport that existed at least as early as 5200 B.C., and has its roots in the Middle East. It spread to Greeks, later to Romans, and with the spread of the Roman Empire was introduced through Europe, Asia, and Africa. Developed in its modern form in Italy, the object of bocce is to get weighted bocce balls as close to the small target ball (pallino or jack) as possible. The beauty of bocce is that it is a low-impact, therapeutic exercise that contains the challenge of strategizing which can improve mental and physical fitness.

4. Horse Shoes

Senior Citizen Throwing Horse Shoe

Photography by Woodley Wonderworks (CC)

The game of horse shoes has its origin in the second century, in the game of quoits, a modification of the Grecian game of discus throwing. It involves swinging a horse shoe so that it is pitched in an arc that is seven to ten feet at its highest point and lands flat and “dead.” The horse shoe’s release involves several physical skills including proper stance, pendulum swing, deft and delicate wrist motion, and timing. Mastering various finger grips produces different turns of the shoe.

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5. Badminton

Badminton is an aerobic sport that requires technical skills and endurance. Despite being easier on seniors’ joints than tennis, badminton is a much faster game than tennis. As such, it tests and hones reflexes, timing, and stamina, more than strength and running. Most people agree, it is far easier to get started and have fun with a game of badminton, than with tennis.

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To find supplies for these sports that senior citizens, and all ages, will benefit and enjoy, visit:


  1. Psychology Today. “Eight Habits that Improve Cognitive Function.” Retrieved on 09/16/2015.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Exercise training increases size of the hippocampus and improves memory.” Retrieved on 09/16/2015.
  2. The Journals of Gerontology. “Benefits of Physical Exercise on the Aging Brain: The Role of the Prefrontal Cortex.” Retrieved on 09/16/2015.
  3. Journal of Aging Research. “A Review of the Effects of Physical Activity and Exercise on Cognitive and Brain Functions in Older Adults.” Retrieved on 09/16/2015.
  4. Shirl J Hoffman. “Introduction to Kinesiology: Studying Physical Activity” Retrieved on 09/16/2015.