Purposeful Living: Camaraderie Helps Active and Healthy Seniors Live More Fulfilled Lives
When I was eleven years old my older brother brought me to a pick up game of basketball at our local community center that was held every week on Monday nights. At the time, my brother was in high school and as a lowly middle school kid it was intimidating for me to be in the same gym with the older players—a group that was comprised of high school students, recent high school and college graduates, and guys who were firmly entrenched in the “real world” with families and 40 hour-a-week jobs.
Upon stepping into the gym for the first time, I remember being in awe of how big, fast, and skilled the older players were. The prevailing rules held that the court closest to the main entrance was for younger players or shooting around. The far court was where the older guys played their games of 5-on-5. I have loved playing basketball for as far back as I can remember and I knew right away that even though I wasn’t ready to compete with the older players, this was something that I wanted to be apart of.
Fast forward twenty years and every Monday night from November through March you can still find me at our local community center participating in pick-up games. And although during undergraduate and graduate school I wasn’t able to attend games unless I was home for winter or spring break, each winter for the last twenty years has included pick up basketball games at the community center.
Now I am one of the real world members of the game at the far court and I find my reasons for playing a little bit different than when I was younger. Back then, there was a sense of rite of passage—dwelling on the lower court growing and learning until I was physically able to compete with the older players. Now I enjoy the competition and the rejuvenation the night provides for the week ahead.
Recently, I’ve been reflecting that I’m probably one of the few people who have been part of this tradition for the last twenty years and feeling a sense of accomplishment.
Then last week, I came across an article in the New York Times and was humbled to read about a group of men who have been playing pick-up games of basketball at a local YMCA, in the West Village neighborhood of Manhattan, every week since 1972.
Many of the men are now in their 60s, 70s, and 80s and show no signs of slowing down. Even when soreness and injury creep in, many of the men would rather play through the pain than stop playing for fear that if they stop, they might not start back up again. When asked why they play in the weekly games, many of the men cite the camaraderie and connection they have forged over the years. They say the group has supported them through the passing of loved ones, quitting smoking, divorce, and losing employment.
As more and more research is conducted on the science of aging and what lifestyle choices contribute to longevity and happiness, we see these types of trends emerge. Anecdotally, this is something that many have felt for years; being connected to a group or community and having a sense of purpose promotes a sense of belonging and overall wellness.
For many folks, just thinking about running up and down a hardwood basketball court—defending other players and tossing a ball into a hoop—is enough to cause pain to shoot down your back and make your knees ache. Playing pickup games of basketball is certainly not for everyone, regardless of age. But one can’t help but to find inspiration in their story.
The message from these men in the West Village is clear; stay active and stay connected. Whether it’s a pickup game of basketball, weekly card game, or an aerobics class, staying active and engaged with your environment and the people around you will ensure a sense of fulfillment every day.
About Frederick Wall
Frederick T. Wall is the Fitness Director at Green Ridge Village in Newville, PA and has provided exercise advice and guidance for diverse segments of the population for over ten years. Fred has a bachelor’s degree from Juniata College, a master’s degree from Frostburg State University, and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist. He resides in Newville, PA with his wife Megan and their daughter Laurel.