Playing Ice Hockey as You Age- 55+

My husband started skating at the age of 3, hockey at 4, and has continued to playing recreational hockey throughout his life. A few years ago he joined a 55+ league (55-81 yrs of age) and still plays twice a week. The hockey skills that he learned at a younger age have served him and his teammates well. Many players on the 55+ team share the same love for hockey as he does. Watching these gentlemen was positively surprising.  As an observer, I have never played hockey in my life, but this was a pleasant eye-opener for me.  My passions were activities such as, dance, volleyball and sprinting in track & field. No-one ‘took me out’ or body checked me. I frequently tell my husband that I couldn’t even imagine that happening. Body checking in the 55+ league doesn’t happen in this league. It’s quite the opposite. When a player falls, the teams stop, pays attention, and tends to the player.

These gentlemen on the team are there for a workout, to socialize, have fun, exercise, have a beer ‘just because’ they can and think about their youth. I quickly noticed the fluidity, strategy, and precision in their game versus my children. Sure they were huffing and puffing, but at the same time there was a lot of accuracy and much thought and game plan. This lead me to think of muscle memory, “a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition”.  When a movement is repeated over time, the brain creates a long-term muscle memory and neural connections for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed with little to no conscious effort”.

Similar to other team sports, playing ice hockey requires coordination, strength, flexibility, balance, quick reflexes, agility, attention and focus. Studies have shown that these skills are critical in maintaining and expanding one’s health span.

Coordination is the ability to use different parts of the body together smoothly and efficiently. This includes stability, spatial orientation, hand-eye coordination and reaction times.

Stability– the ability to return to a desired position while maintaining balance.  This is especially noticeable in the goalies.

Spatial orientation– knowing where your teammates and opposing players are (while keeping an eye on the puck) on the ice is critical for advancing a play.  Furthermore, the players need to evaluate the current positioning of all players while anticipating where the play will go in the next few seconds while continuing play.

Hand-Eye Coordination– the ability to perform activities that require the simultaneous use of our hands and eyes. This increases stick handling, passing, receiving and allowing for execution of necessary skills simultaneously.

Reaction time– is the time it takes for you to respond to a stimulus and make the correct decision (processing speed) in response to that stimuli. Do I pass, or do I skate with the puck?

Strength– resisting or imposing a force. Strength is required in every battle for the puck along the boards, in every stride while skating, in every change of direction on the ice, and in every shot.

Flexibility– has a direct correlation to mobility, which is needed for speed, to prevent injury, and giving a goalie the ability to flail his limbs in the direction of the shooting puck. Pre-game stretches will allow your body to become more flexible, making it easier for you to move quickly at a fast pace, and reducing injuries.  Goalies need to contort their bodies in response to the bouncing puck and the chaos in the crease.

Reflexes– an action that your body does in response to something — without you even having to think about it. Allowing your body to react in ways that help you to be safe, to stand upright, and to be active.  Goalies need to react to pucks exceeding 100 km/hour.

Agility– to perform the required tasks in a coordinated fashion quickly and easily.  Goalies need to drop to the ice to stop a puck and then jump back to their skates to for a rebound.

Sprinting– can increase muscle mass, bone density, and is good for cardiovascular health. Sprinting can also improve body composition, the ratio-of fat to muscle burning muscle while increasing overall endurance.

Movement- as we age is beneficial for both physical and mental health. Movement has shown to improve feelings of wellbeing, reduce stress and decrease proinflammatory cytokines, proteins that function as chemical messengers in your immune system.

Maintaining focus, attention, and memory is important for performance on the ice. These skills play a vital role in decision-making, reaction time, and overall performance.

There are so many great reasons and many health benefits in continuing to play hockey and staying physically active as you age. Increasing your wellbeing, recovering from illness more quickly, reducing the risk of getting chronic disease, and preventing falls are just some of the many benefits.

It’s never too late to re-introduce an activity that you enjoyed in childhood. Give it a try. You may just be surprised how you remember certain motor skills and perform them without conscious effort. Not only is it fun, but it’s also good for you! Movement is medicine.

Eat Well- Stay Active-Create Balance