The global population is ageing. As ageing is often associated with a decline in health, there is a need to further develop preventative health measures. Physical activity can positively influence older adults’ (aged 50 years and older) health. Previous research on the relationship between physical activity and health for older adults has mainly focused on physical activity in general, and not specific types of exercise. Due to the social nature of sport, it may assist in improving physical, mental and social health for older adults. Sport, as a form of physical activity, has not been widely explored as a physical activity opportunity for older adults. This review concurrently explored two research questions: the determinants and the trends of sport participation for community dwelling older adults.
Two parallel systematic searches of nine electronic databases were conducted in December 2015 for the two research questions. English language quantitative and qualitative studies that provided specific results for community dwelling older adults’ sport participation were included and a quality ratings assessment was undertaken.
There were 10,171 studies initially identified for the first research question and 1992 studies for the second research question. This culminated in 18 and 8 studies respectively that met the inclusion criteria. The most frequently mentioned determinants of participation were health and using sport to negotiate the ageing process. The most frequently mentioned trends of sport participation were the effect of historical sport participation on current participation, and sport participation across the lifespan. The main themes for both research questions had contrasting results, for example, participation in sport could improve health, but poor health was also a limitation of sport participation.
This review demonstrates that older adults are a heterogeneous age group, and therefore require different strategies than other age groups to successfully participate in sport. It is recommended that the main findings from this review are incorporated into specific strategies to develop age appropriate sporting opportunities for older adults, so that sport can be presented as a viable physical activity option for this age group.