Jump to Search Jump to Navigation Jump to Content


860. Sport and ageing: a systematic review of the determinants and trends of participation in sport for older adults

Research Article
Claire R. Jenkin, Rochelle M. Eime, Hans Westerbeek, Grant O’Sullivan and Jannique G. Z. van Uffelen
February 2018

Commentary by:

Dr Lindsey Reece, Senior Research Fellow and Manager of the SPort and Active Recreation INTervention & Epidemiology Research Group [SPRINTER] a partnership with Office of Sport, NSW Government and Prevention Research Collaboration, University of Sydney. 

Bridget Foley, Research Officer, SPRINTER.

Lewis Keane, Research Officer, Prevention Research Collaboration, University of Sydney.

Increasing global physical activity levels to enhance health and wellbeing across the life course cannot be achieved by a single sector alone. The unique and critical contribution of sport to the continuum of all-encompassing leisure time activity is becoming increasingly recognised across Government sectors. This review reinforces this point by highlighting the breadth of available research supporting the health and wellbeing benefits of physical activity in older adults. Specifically, the review questions explored the available research on both the trends and determinants of sport-based physical activity participation, and its impact on physical, mental and social health in older adults.  In order to inform policy shifts and effective strategies that prevent declining health outcomes amongst ageing populations, it is crucial to understand the mechanisms underlying the determinants and trends of this participation.

The authors applied a rigorous search strategy across relevant databases. Applying Kmet, Lee and Cook’s quality rating list allowed objective classification of the strength of research before drawing their conclusions.  For each of the two research questions, they identified 18 and 8 articles respectively. These low inclusion rates were primarily explained by unclear definitions for sport, and a lack of reporting on participation outcomes.  This reiterates the need for a universally accepted and consistent definition of sport, and clear vision for how sport-based physical activity can be used across physical activity and health sectors. This also reinforces the critical need for more comprehensive surveillance systems in the sport sector that inform policy makers and practitioners how participants interact with sport-based physical activity, and what influences their decision to do so.

The evidence clearly shows that sport participation can positively influence health amongst older adults, and that health is a primary determinant of this participation.  Wider social benefits were also reported, with sport viewed as a powerful tool in fostering social connections and decreasing social isolation.   Amongst older adults, participation in sport declines with age, with the resulting poor health then identified as a primary barrier for any continued participation. Other socio-demographic factors such as retirement or prior sport history could influence participation, with evidence currently inconclusive.  Future research is needed to explore the impact of socio-demographic factors on sports participation in this age group. 

This review should be seen as an urgent call to action for the next steps required in recognising the full potential of sport to promote health enhancing physical activity:

1) Developing universal definitions of sport and sport-based physical activity

2) Using these definitions to develop international surveillance systems of sport-based physical activity, and

3) Using these surveillance systems to design age-appropriate sporting opportunities that engage populations in continued participation across the life course.

Source: BMC Public Health

Access to this article will depend on your institutional rights. Access the full article.


Age > Adult

Age > Older Adult/Senior