The Health Benefits of Summer Play

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Ever since we were kids waiting for the end of the school year, summer has been the season to get out and play.

Decades later that’s still true. And, if you need extra incentive to get outdoors and get moving, consider that summer pastimes may offer hefty health benefits.

Carol Michaels, a certified fitness trainer in West Orange, New Jersey, and, at 62, someone who fully embraces summer fun, shares her insights on the health perks of some of our favorite summer games.

Water aerobics  

A score on almost all fronts for seniors. “Water exercise is very gentle on the joints, whether you have arthritis, old injuries or everyday aches and pains,” Michaels says. “At the same time, water aerobics can be an excellent cardio-vascular exercise. In even a moderately challenging class, you can get your heart rate up and burn calories. And, as a group exercise class with lots of interaction and laughs, you can enjoy social benefits, too.”


A cross between tennis, Ping-Pong and badminton, the fast-growing sport of pickleball is fun, social and forgiving. “I play pickleball myself,” Michaels says, “and one of the great things about the game is that you can mix up levels much more easily than you can in, say, tennis where it can be frustrating for other players if a beginner is part of a doubles games.” Plus, she says, because pickleball is played with a perforated plastic ball — it’s similar to a whiffle ball — there’s less likelihood of getting injured by errant balls. Serving is done underhand, which is easier for people who have shoulder injuries. And with a court that’s about half the size of a tennis court, there’s less ground to cover. Since you’re on your feet, pickleball may be a good-for-your-bones weight-bearing exercise, Michaels notes, “and once you’re playing at more advanced levels, you’ll work up a pretty good sweat.”


According to the Mayo Clinic, the benefits of a daily walk range from helping maintain a healthy weight and preventing or managing conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes, to strengthening bones and muscles, and improving balance, coordination and even mood. Choose a scenic route for your walk in the summer and you get the added stress-reducing benefit of being in nature. During steamy days, try to do your walking early in the morning or in the late afternoon, when the sun’s rays are less strong, Michaels suggests. “Move at a brisk, but not uncomfortable pace,” she notes. “If you want to kick it up a bit, try alternating intervals of a 30-second easy jog with 30-second recovery walks.”

Rowing and kayaking

“These are great exercises,” Michaels says. “When you’re pushing through water with a paddle or oar, you’re building both endurance and strength and working your core. If you’re on a flat body of water like a lake, the repeated movement and breathing can be meditative and relaxing, almost like a yoga class.” For an easy and gentle introduction to human-powered boats that many generations can enjoy, try renting a pedal boat for an afternoon.

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