Central New York, Community

Seniors in Syracuse Find New Way to Feel Young

A look at how a popular new game helps Syracuse seniors stay active and self-reliant.

By Mike Drew SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — Getting old is inevitable. For many, it’s an excuse to “shut it down” and stop exercising, while their bodies become frailer and frailer. But, in Syracuse, one group of seniors finds the fountain of youth every week through a game called pickleball.

“It’s the fastest growing sport in the United States right now,” Judy Bowman, one of the group members, said. “And it’s growing around the world.”

In January 2014, the New York State Office for the Aging released a study stating that 70 percent of all senior center participants had “mental health issues, cognitive issues and were physically frail.”

The Magnarelli Community Center has continued to support senior recreation programs like pickleball in an attempt to improve the state’s results.

So, what exactly is pickleball? It’s a combination of three different sports:

  • Badminton
  • Tennis
  • Ping Pong (Table Tennis)

It can be played on any tennis or basketball court using a racquet and a wiffle ball. According to the United States Pickleball Association (USAPA), the game has surged in popularity since 2010.

The health benefits to playing the game are many. Especially for senior citizens, like the ones who play every Thursday at the Magnarelli Community Center.

“There’s an old saying: ‘When you rest, you rust.’ And with pickleball, you’re not resting,” Norm Caffrey, 62, said. “It’s good for the joints.”

In addition to physical benefits like improved hand-eye coordination and muscle flexibility, pickleball can also help keep seniors mentally strong.

“I think it helps with motor learning skills,” Bowman said. “I think it helps mentally because you have to think and helps your eyes because you have to focus.”

Bowman said simple day-to-day tasks like driving a car or even writing can become easier for seniors after playing the game. It helps keep them independent, without having to rely on others for assistance with routine activities.

The social component of the game also cannot be dismissed.

“I mean, you look at some of these people, they’re in their seventies, some are in their eighties,” Bowman said. “They’re off the couch, they’re getting social, there are great social skills involved here.”

The pickleball group meets every Thursday from 12:30 to 2:15 at Magnarelli. It currently has about 30 members.

A motto that seniors who exercise at the Magnarelli Community Center live by. (c) 2017 Mike Drew

This is all the equipment you need (just a racquet and a wiffle ball) to play pickleball. (c) 2017 Mike Drew