Fitness trends come and go, but staying active and healthy remains a top priority for many people, even after retiring.
As the members of the baby boomer generation seek out ways to keep fit and enjoy their retirement years, the number and variety of fitness options continue to grow, especially in popular retirement destinations like Wilmington and the surrounding beach communities.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, by the time they are 75, about 1 in 3 men and 1 in 2 women no longer engage in any physical activity, resulting in reduced strength and stamina.
But that lack of energy we used to just call “old age” can now be diminished and even eliminated with a regular exercise routine.
Retiree Caroline Ryan of Wilmington knows firsthand the physical, emotional and social benefits of regular exercise – particularly competitive sports – for people of a certain age, and she has the busy schedule to prove it.
A longtime tennis player who competed in U.S. Tennis Association tournaments before an injury convinced her to slow down, Ryan is now a champion at pickleball, a sort-of hybrid of badminton, tennis and pingpong and the fastest-growing recreational sport in America.
Invited to a game sponsored by the Cape Fear Pickleball Club by an acquaintance, Ryan played once and decided she had found her sport.
“I play five or six times a week now,” Ryan said. “I’m addicted.”
A group of local players formed the Cape Fear Pickleball Club in 2015 to promote participation in the sport, develop venues to provide more opportunities and bring players together for games and social events.
Players can always find a game by visiting the club’s website
“It’s a full-body workout,” Ryan said. “You’re running, stopping and bending. There’s also the social aspect. I’ve made an entire group of friends who play.”
She said another attraction for older adults is the way playing pickleball “keeps your brain young” as players consistently learn new techniques.
Ryan and several other players from Wilmington competed in the N.C. Senior Games last year and plan to do so again this year.
“We have a contingency from Wilmington, so we take a carload,” she said. “It’s a blast.”
And Ryan doesn’t lack for tournaments in which to participate during the year. She travels regularly to compete in events across the state and into Myrtle Beach.
Only a few Cape Fear-area venues have their own dedicated pickleball facilities, but that doesn’t stop club members. They provide nets, paddles and other equipment and set them up wherever they are needed for a game.
The club offers free pickleball lessons every Saturday morning at 9 a.m. at Greenfield Lake Park. She recommends anyone interested to try it at least once.
“We have all shapes and sizes playing,” she said. “Everybody really enjoys it.”
Tennis is the retirement sport of choice for Shirley Gerrior, who just took up the sport when she moved to Wilmington in 2010. She serves now as captain of one of many tennis teams supported by the Porters Neck Country Club and under the umbrella of the Women’s Tennis League of Wilmington (WTTW).
Team captain since 2014, Gerrior decided this year it was time the large contingent of older female tennis players was allowed their own competition category. She officially requested that the WTTW allow teams with players 55 and older to compete in age-specific tournaments.
“Many of the women on the team are older, and we were competing against an age range of 18 plus,” Gerrior said.
The new category begins play when the fall season begins the week of Sept. 11 and will consist of five teams.
“We look forward to playing more competitively,” she said.
Like Ryan, Gerrior enjoys the social aspect of the sport as well as the great cardio workout it provides.
“Tennis introduces you to lots of people,” she said. “I’ve met many people both from Porters Neck and from the other Empie Park teams. I’ve made some new friendships, and with a weekly practice there is some time for socializing such as lunch after a match.”
Gerrior recommends that anyone thinking about taking up tennis for the first time seek out lessons from a tennis professional at a local country club or Empie or Ogden parks.
“Take a private lesson or a beginners clinic to find out your skill level or what is needed to get to a certain level to play with a group or team,” she suggests. “Tennis requires you to move in all directions, so fast feet, quick movement and cardio stamina are needed.”
The Wellness Center at The Davis Community, which is made up of a retirement community, assisted living center and nursing facility, has fitness opportunities geared specifically for older people including those in need of rehabilitation.
The center, designed for people 55 and older, offers memberships to the public, not just those who are a part of Davis’ other facilities.
According to The Davis Community’s rehabilitation coordinator Matt Stinson, the rehab center allows participants to exercise or recover from surgeries utilizing equipment specifically designed for seniors.
“A lot of people feel a little intimidated at the more traditional outpatient clinics where there may be a lot of younger people recovering from sports injuries,” Stinson said. “We cater to a little bit different clientele. We have occupational, physical and speech therapy, as well as treatments for Parkinson’s disease, pain management therapies and aquatic exercise.”
Wellness Center director Emily Parker says she has seen members flourish after regularly participating in activities such as Piloga – a mix of pilates and yoga – Zumba Gold, functional strength and hydro fit.
“I have seen confidence, strength and overall health dramatically improve with the participation in our wellness program,” Parker said. “Every member at The Davis [Community] Wellness Center is working towards the common goal of personal wellness, and seeing them find a sense of purpose and belonging through our program is incredibly rewarding and a testament to the power of exercise.”