Step Up Challenge Results – Guess Who Came Out on Top?
Last month’s NSGA Step Up Your Game Challenge was a fun way for athletes to log their activity in steps and compete with their state to win by achieving the highest average steps for the team. Hundreds signed on and the competition was lively among 39 qualified teams, logging a mind-boggling 144,944,658 steps, or 72,472 miles. That’s some serious fitness on display-great job everyone!
So who won? The leader board changed hands several times throughout the event, culminating in an exciting finish. Louisiana topped the podium, covering a total of 432.3 miles, closely followed by Hawaii with over 428 miles in steps. The rest of the Top Ten in order were Virginia, Veterans Golden Age Games, Maryland, South Carolina, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Georgia and New York.
Let’s all keep moving and stay fit!
NSGA Spotlights Falls Prevention Awareness Week
The National Council on Aging (NCOA) hosts its annual Falls Prevention Awareness Week from September 21-25, but NSGA is expanding to share related articles, videos, athlete features and more for the entire month in social media. There’s a great discussion and links about balance in this month’s Senior Health and Wellness section, and even September’s Athlete of the Month has an angle on balance and falls, as you will read below.
We echo the NCOA messaging that falls are not an inevitable part of aging and can be largely prevented. NSGA’s Senior Athlete Fitness Exam (SAFE) data shows that National Senior Games athletes experience significantly fewer falls than their age peers, which proves our assertion that anyone can help reduce falls risk by staying active too!
The National Senior Games Facebook page has rich content to review and more to come this month. Twitter and Instagram will also have related content.
We also bring your attention to NCOA’s new “FallsFree Checkup” page that provides personalized feedback on a few brief survey questions. It’s worth checking out!
Remaining 2020 Qualifying Games Update
While many of our State Games were unfortunately unable to conduct events this year, there are still 2020 Qualifying Games that are currently scheduled to happen in the next three months. Some can only host limited events, and conditions may change, so please refer to the State Games Information page for state contacts/websites and for the most up-to-date calendar.
As a result of the shutdowns, NSGA established an Adjusted Qualification Process for the 2021 National Senior Games presented by Humana, coming to sunny Greater Fort Lauderdale. The information can be accessed on the How To Qualify page of our website. NSGA will send notices to all qualified athletes later this year.
NSGA is grateful for the dedicated and detailed response by our Member Organizations who have made every effort to stage qualifying games. Their efforts have been heroic. Let’s celebrate at the National Senior Games in sunny Greater Fort Lauderdale next year!
Sport Update: New Cycling Division Added
We are excited to add recumbent trikes to our recumbent (non fairing) division for the 5K and 10K Time Trials events. The ergonomics of recumbent bicycles and tricycles are the same, but trikes are easier to balance and don’t tip when you stop.
“Because you’re lower to the ground and obviously more stable, you don’t have to worry about falling off your bike and getting hurt,” Says Sue Hlavacek, NSGA Director of Programs and Events. “The stability factor is so important with the recumbent trike that you never have the fear of falling.”
For 2021, recumbent cycles are classified as an “open sport” and no qualification is needed. For complete sports and rules information, visit the National Games and Sports tabs at NSGA.com.
September Athlete of the Month
Pickleball Over Parkinson’s
Andy Leighton has learned over the years that you don’t give anything away to your opponents – you make them earn everything. For the past decade, that outlook has been put to test, as he now has a second opponent to face every day: Parkinson’s Disease.
“After the diagnosis, I went into a bit of a funk for several weeks,” he recalls. “But I learned there are things you can do to slow its advance if you work hard at it. A neurologist told me, ‘If you keep your activity level up, you probably won’t need a cane in ten years.’ The implication was I would be hobbling around. Well, here it is ten years later, and I can compete at the National Senior Games in Pickleball!”
Andy’s history of staying fit through sports and recreation has given him fortitude and life lessons to tackle this new foe. The Syracuse, New York native says he was a late bloomer, often finding himself the last guy chosen for little league teams. Then he discovered tennis in high school, and it extended to playing for Hartwick College. “My claim to fame is that I might be the first tennis player in the NCAA to go from team manager to team MVP in one year,” he quips.
Prior to joining Senior Games, the now-retired Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority employee captained his federal tennis league team and competed in other tournaments around northern Virginia, often in mixed doubles play with his wife, Helen White. “I met her playing tennis, and I had the edge on her for years. Then, she got a head start on me playing pickleball, and now the roles are reversed. I’ll be darned if I can beat her now!”
While he credits Helen (herself a 2013 NSGA Athlete of the Month) for being an irreplaceable coach, care partner and playing partner, he also enjoys a support group of followers from his pickleball friends that has become known as Andy’s Army. “People would come out to encourage me at tournaments, so I thought I would make it fun and bought everyone shirts. Our slogan is ‘Pickleball over Parkinson’s’ and the group now numbers over 50.”
The progressive degenerative disease affects movement and may cause tremors and severe balance issues. Migrating to the smaller pickleball court allowed Andy to remain competitive. Two years in, he wasn’t experiencing major issues, but Helen saw signs in his play. “I noticed Andy’s balance was off, his center of gravity was too high, and his footwork was setting him up for a fall,” she says. “So I gave him a gift of training sessions and it has paid off in more ways than one.”
Andy concentrates on agility drills in balance and footwork and has not experienced a fall since his diagnosis. “One of the things it can do is shorten your gait, which is a problem for falls,” Andy explains. “It’s trying to do that to me, so I make sure to stretch out and make each first step a big one. People with Parkinson’s can also experience ‘freezing’ where you attempt to step forward and your feet don’t move, which leads to falls. That hasn’t happened to me yet, and maybe it won’t.”
“My Parkinson’s is advancing, but at a much slower rate than it would have without doing all this training,” he continues. “The extra work and agility drills is paying off. I’m literally trying to outlive this thing.”
Andy can’t wait to go to Greater Fort Lauderdale for the 2021 National Senior Games presented by Humana, where some of “Andy’s Army” will be there to cheer him on. But he’s not satisfied just to be an inspiration. “I’m realistic enough to know that if I play a world champ I might not win, but I’m not intimidated,” he says. “I’m not here just to fill up playing space. I’m here to take a medal.”
We’d like to hear about you or an interesting athlete you admire-it just might be selected for a story! To submit yours, or to nominate another, Please Click Here.
Senior Health and Wellness
Building Balance: Senior Active Living and Sports
Senior Games athletes demonstrate impressive results when tested for balance. Senior Athlete Fitness Exam (SAFE) screenings reveal that only 10% of Senior Games Athletes report falling within a given year, much less than their age peers.
To help guide you to better balance, the NSGA has produced a Balance Training for Athletes Over 50 handout and a new balance video that helps explain anticipatory and reactive balance. These join with many other helpful resources under the Health and Wellness tab at NSGA.com.
The following Q&A with NSGA Director of Health and Wellness Andrew Walker and physical therapist Dr. Becca Jordre helps to further clarify some important components of balance.
Q: How different are the exercises in the Balance Handout and Balance Video?
A: The balance video really focuses on reactionary balance. This is the part of your balance that you’ll use most when something unexpected disturbs your balance. Common disturbances are getting bumped into or tripping. The balance handout focuses more on anticipatory balance. This type of balance is also important as it helps us to stay upright for balance challenges that we anticipate. Examples might be maintaining balance while stepping over a large object or when stretching to reach for something.
Q: Why is anticipatory balance important for Senior Games athletes?
A: Anticipatory balance is important for much of our daily and athletic movement. It helps athletes to have control when walking, running, lifting, stepping, turning and in most movements. I think a lot of people don’t realize that running is a single leg activity. If your sport involves running, you’ll want to have good single leg balance. Training anticipatory balance through exercises like those on the balance handout, and reactionary balance through exercises like those found on the video are both key to staying upright and off the ground! Just make sure you start with the basics and always practice in a safe environment.
Q: In addition to using the Clock Yourself App shown in the video, how do I improve my functional balance?
A: The best thing to do for starters is to stay active. With a lot of restrictions in place right now that impact activity and exercise, I’m concerned that we’ll see a significant increase in falls this year. Even if you cannot go to your gym or play your sport, try to find a way to stay active. This might actually be a great time to try something new. Tai Chi is a great way to train your balance and it is shown to decrease fall risk. Try a beginner video at home and start with the simple basics. Strength training with functional activities like step ups and lunges can also be helpful. Even stretching is important so that you have the range of motion needed to control your balance or catch yourself.
Q: What additional tips do you have on balance?
A: Balance isn’t something you can train for once. If you can find a way to integrate two to three days of balance training into your routine, you’re likely to decrease your risk for falls and you may even improve your sport performance.
Generalized Advice Won’t Help if You want to Prevent Falls
There are 2 ways most people go about managing their health:
- Try to follow generalized guidelines and hope for the best.
- Find out what specifically works for them and do that.
The obvious trouble with option 1 is that, despite the multi-billion dollar health & fitness industry and decades-long public health campaigns, more people are falling down than ever before. It’s the biggest cause of trauma room visit and death – now even more than car crashes. So if your goal is fall prevention and you follow the herd, you’re doomed to fail.
A variation of this option is to copy what someone else does, and that might work to an extent. But how many times have you tried someone else’s diet or exercise plan, only to find that it doesn’t quite fit your lifestyle, or you simply don’t get the same results? It’s all too easy to get demoralized and give up.
The trouble with option 2 is that it sounds complicated. If you have to find something out, it means that you’ll have to try many things, be prepared to fail, pick yourself up and keep going until you hit on the perfect combination for you. Exhausting!
So back to option 1: remind yourself of the general guidelines on how to prevent a fall or improve your physical balance. It’s common sense, shouldn’t be too hard. So why is it so hard?
The trouble with general guidelines is this:
They’re general, which means they’re often vague because they’re trying to stay slightly relevant to everybody, no matter their circumstances.
You’re carrying health baggage that your genes or lifestyle or blind luck has given you, but humans don’t have a factory reset switch to go back and follow the guidelines from scratch.
They’re based on the fact that doing something good for your health is better than nothing, however, that often neglects our psychological need to see noticeable results that matter to us.
This typically makes us discount the advice we don’t like the sound of, or tell ourselves it doesn’t apply to us (yet).
We see this often when we talk to people about balance. If we ask a large group of people over 65 if they’re worried about falling down this year, only a handful put up their hands. Yet statistics show 28% of them are actually likely to fall. Many will say that fall prevention is important for others, but are often overly optimistic about their own balance and ability.
Maintaining good balance, like maintaining a healthy weight, takes regular doses of helpful actions, while minimizing unhelpful ones. And when people get off track, they need a simple, relevant plan to get them back on track. But to do that, people need something to focus on, and a way of measuring their progress.
For successful weight loss, these are the typical steps people are familiar with:
- Measure where you are now. It might be your actual weight or the fit of your clothes, but you need to know what your baseline is and where you want to get to.
- Look at your eating habits.
- Look at your activity levels.
- Make small changes you can sustain to both 2 and 3.
- Measure again regularly.
These steps seem general, but the key is they are YOUR habits and things YOU can sustain.
For fall prevention, the steps are similar. (While you could wrap yourself in bubble wrap and stay in bed, the real aim should be to strengthen your balance system so you can live a full life on your terms).
- Measure your balance now [a doctor or physical therapist can help]
- Look at risk factors for falls in your lifestyle [Zibrio has a free tool for this]
- What small changes can you make starting today for your fall risk?
- Measure again regularly
Look over your lifestyle risk factors regularly also, as balance is very responsive to small changes in how you live.
Lifestyle factors affect us all slightly differently. Some people find how much sleep they get has a disproportionate effect on their balance. For others, it might be how often they work on maintaining leg strength, or how they manage anxiety.
Fortunately, advances in machine learning and technology can now provide simple tools to help you succeed.
CLICK HERE to learn more
This article was provided by Zibrio, a partner of the National Senior Games Association.
NSGA to Share Athletes Stories for Active Aging Week
Active Aging Week presented by Humana will be observed October 5-11 this year. Initiated in 2003 by the International Council on Active Aging, Active Aging Week showcases the capabilities of older adults as fully participating members of society. This campaign also spotlights role models that lead the way.
In the Active Aging Week description online, it states “Active aging promotes the vision of all individuals—regardless of age, socioeconomic status or health—fully engaging in life within seven dimensions of wellness: emotional, environmental, intellectual/cognitive, physical, professional/vocational, social and spiritual.”
To showcase this, each day beginning October 5th NSGA will share an athlete feature in our social media that exemplifies one or more of the seven dimensions. Watch for them!
NSGA Health & Wellness Partners
NSGA Sport Partners