All of us age. And in aging, physical changes occur. While I believe that aging is mostly a positive experience, there are undoubtedly negative ones. A few notable examples to mention are Sarcopenia - loss of force-producing mass/muscle mass - and Osteopenia - loss of bone density. Though partly natural in nature, a major reason why these conditions occur in an accelerated manner is because these bodily resources simply aren't being used, more commonly seen in people living sedentary lifestyles. Both Sarcopenia and Osteopenia gradually chip away at a very important aspect in maintaining one's quality of life, and that is PHYSICAL INDEPENDENCE - the ability to perform daily physical activities without the assistance of other people.
Moving forward, the best solution to counter these scenarios is actually pretty simple: engage oneself in an EXERCISE REGIMEN. To better illustrate what these degenerative conditions look like and how effective routine exercise can be, here are cross-section thigh images of a 40yr old triathlete, a 74yr old sedentary man and a 70yr old triathlete (Wroblewski, Amati, Smiley, Goodpaster, Wright, 2011):
As you can see above, if you are part of the few that, since very early on, have consistently engaged in exercise, then maintaining physical independence towards advanced ages wouldn't be a problem. But for the moms and pops, grand moms and grand dads, whom have been previously sedentary and are just starting out with their exercise journey, don't worry. Study suggests that engaging in an exercise regimen, even if only starting at more advanced ages, still provide promising benefits (Buchner, Beresford, Larson, LaCroix, Wagner, 1992).
WHY PARKOUR IS A GREAT ACTIVITY FOR THE ELDERLY
While it is true that simply engaging in any form of exercise is better than nothing, Parkour should be one of the top choices for the elderly as it manages to offer some very unique elements for them.
TRAINS FOR REAL-WORLD NECESSARY MOVEMENTS
According to a study from Rejuvenation Research (Cadore, Rodríguez-Mañas, Sinclair, Izquierdo, 2013), elderly individuals should participate in "a multi-component exercise intervention program that consists of strength, endurance, and balance training." Such regimen "appears to be the best strategy for improving gait, balance, and strength, as well as reducing the rate of falls... consequently maintaining their functional capacity during aging."
Truth be told, Parkour is probably one of the most dynamic forms of physical disciplines out there. In totality, the discipline does not only provide an exact fit to what the study recommends to be done by the elderly, it also accomplishes such needs by its participants fully engaging in the daily environments they are a part of, training for movements that are HIGHLY USEFUL. From jumping on steps, balancing on narrowly-painted lines, getting over obstacles of different heights, to pulling oneself over a wall, a properly-guided Parkour regimen will improve strength, endurance and balance within the confines of movements that one may actually need to use - eg speedily fleeing a location because of an inherent danger.
EMPHASIS ON GRADUAL, INDIVIDUAL PROGRESSION
While Parkour and the elderly are words that usually don't go together, most of us Parkour practitioners don't see why it's the case. I believe that the reason behind such apprehension is the mainstream association of the discipline to risk - that Parkour is dangerous. Though there is an inherent danger in Parkour (Da Rocha et al, 2014), initial studies suggest that the rate of Parkour-associated injuries (Wanke, Thiel, Groneberg, Fischer, 2013) are comparable, if not lower, to the injury rates of more mainstream sports activities (Hootman, Dick, Angel, 2007). From common Parkour circles, such risk factors can be mitigated by two very important understandings of the discipline:
- PARKOUR IS A GAME OF TRAINING AND PROGRESSION. That all practitioners, even the most elite of athletes, STARTED FROM ZERO. So while everyone is getting nauseated by videos of practitioners leaping from one rooftop to the other, let's make it clear that they all first started by jumping from point A, to a few inches away to point B, while on the ground, done hundreds and thousands of times. EVERYONE STARTS FROM THE FLOOR.
- YOU MAKE YOUR OWN DECISIONS ON WHAT TO DO. Each practitioner decides what step each makes. The discipline highly espouses the need to honestly assess each's personal ability, and to which extent the practitioner will push him or herself (rooted in one of Parkour's founding principles of 'No Competition'). So if one does not want to leap to a step higher at the moment, then by all means be comfortable with where you can currently jump to. Your body, your choice.
VERY LOW BARRIER TO ENTRY - NO NEED FOR SPECIAL FACILITY OR EQUIPMENT
There are times when mats and paddings are required (especially when experimenting on somersaults/flips), but most core Parkour movements can be explored, learned and mastered at any local, free-to-use space with nothing more than comfortable clothes and rubber shoes on. This 'feature' of Parkour is probably one of the reasons why so many are falling in love with it, that the investment needed in time and money to be able to do participate in it is very very very minimal. In fact, if you're spending too much resources on it, it could actually mean you're doing something wrong. Because at the core of the discipline is the spirit of 'making something out of nothing'. Of making everyday mundane environments into great playgrounds, learning how to compromise and move even if you've left your shoes, killing off time by jumping around the pedestrian while waiting for someone, Parkour was born out of resourcefulness and creativity, and from resourcefulness and creativity it continuously thrives. So because everything is of use, what other excuse can your mom, dad, grandmother and grandfather give not to participate?
To wrap things up, I'll leave you with one important insight - that Parkour is NOT FOR EVERYONE. And it is not for everyone not because of what it physically demands, the resources it requires, nor because of one's age, but because to each is his/her right to decide to participate or not participate in it. As a last push to inspire some of the elderly to maybe try Parkour out, watch the video below from ITV News Wales.
*PKPH regularly holds FREE Parkour training sessions. To get more details on how to learn from the community, simply get updated through our social media channels:
1. Wroblewski, Andrew, Francesca Amati, Mark Smiley, Bret Goodpaster, and Vonda Wright. "Chronic Exercise Preserves Lean Muscle Mass in Masters Athletes." The Physician and Sportsmedicine 39.3 (2011): 172-78. Web.
2. Buchner, D. M., S. A A Beresford, E. B. Larson, A. Z. Lacroix, and E. H. Wagner. "Effects of Physical Activity on Health Status in Older Adults II: Intervention Studies." Annual Review of Public Health 13.1 (1992): 469-88. Web.
3. Cadore, Eduardo Lusa, Leocadio Rodríguez-Mañas, Alan Sinclair, and Mikel Izquierdo. "Effects of Different Exercise Interventions on Risk of Falls, Gait Ability, and Balance in Physically Frail Older Adults: A Systematic Review." Rejuvenation Research 16.2 (2013): 105-14. Web.
4. Da Rocha, Jaime A., Juan Carlos P. Morales, George S. Sabino, Bento J. Abreu, Diogo C. Felício, Bruno P. Couto, Marcos Daniel M. Drummond, and Leszek A. Szmuchrowski. "Prevalence and Risk Factors of Musculoskeletal Injuries in Parkour." Science of Martial Arts 10 (2014): 39-42. Web. 5 Feb. 2015.
5. Wanke, E., N. Thiel, D. Groneberg, and A. Fischer. "Parkour--"art of Movement" and Its Injury Risk." Sportverletzung · Sportschaden 27.03 (2013): 169-76. Web.
6. Hootman, Jennifer M., PhD, ATC, FACSM, Randall Dick, MA, FACSM, and Julie Agel, MA, ATC. "Epidemiology of Collegiate Injuries for 15 Sports: Summary and Recommendations for Injury Prevention Initiatives." Journal of Athletic Training 42.2 (2007): 311-19. Web. 5 Feb. 2015.
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