A new season is approaching-the weather turns warmer, the days get longer, and our thoughts often turn to physical activity. Spring is often a time to start an exercise program, enjoy a favorite sport, or get busy with house or yard work.

Physical activity is important for all ages. Senior adults can attest to the value of an active lifestyle. Pass around props, such as a water bottle, tennis shoes, t-shirt (look for a funny exercise slogan), baseball, and a wood-handled jump rope. Ask your group: What physical activities did you enjoy as a child and young adult? What sports did you like to play? Are you an exercise enthusiast? How did you help your family build fitness into everyday life? Now is the time to plan some fitness fun and fellowship for your group. Spark some treasured memories with the following activities.

  • Ask your group to define fitness. Talk about the President’s Council on Youth Fitness, which was established in 1956 under President Dwight Eisenhower. (The name was later changed to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.) What do participants remember about President Kennedy’s call for Americans to participate in exercise? Ask: How did you and your family exercise for fitness in the 1960s?
  • Ask participants if they ever joined a YMCA/YWCA physical fitness program in their youth. Share memories of the Y’s gyms, pools, and summer camps.
  • Pass around copies of old Sports Illustrated magazines. What do the men remember about the “Sportsman of the Year” award, which began in1954 with track and field star Roger Bannister?
  • Pass around a box of Wheaties-“Breakfast of Champions”-cereal. Ask: How does Wheaties promote fitness and sports? Challenge your group to name the first athlete featured on a Wheaties cereal box. (Answer: Lou Gehrig in 1934)
  • Ask the men in your group to share recollections of any physical fitness tests taken for military service. Describe the fitness test for the 1940 Selective Training and Service Act.
  • Show photographs of or pass around vintage 1930s/1940s/1950s sportswear – e.g., swimsuit, golf outfit, tennis skirt.
  • Encourage participants to describe a typical school “gym” class from their childhood. Ask: Did you wear a one-piece gym uniform with sneakers?
  • Share recollections of high school and college sports teams. Did any group member play a sport(s) in school? Ask: What are the benefits of participating in a school sport? What did you learn about competition? About teamwork?
  • Ask participants to list some of their favorite recreational activities that involve physical activity. Many of them will name dancing. Share nostalgic memories of ballroom dancing during the 1930s/40s. Watch the elegant dancing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the musical Top Hat.
  • Show clips of The Jack La Lanne Show, which aired from 1951-1985. Ask what participants recall about the “father of fitness” and TV’s first exercise show. Ask: Did you ever join an exercise class?
  • Show a short documentary on the ancient and modern Olympic games. Ask your group to talk about athletes and sportsmanship.
  • Invite a seasoned runner to talk about a training regimen for a long race or marathon. Share recollections of the Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest annual marathon.
  • Invite a nutritionist to talk about the USDA’s Food Guide Pyramid and how it relates to older adults. Offer a simple food and nutrition quiz, e.g., name four fruits that begin with the letter ‘p’.
  • Examine some world records in sports from The Guinness Book of World Records or a world almanac.
  • Watch clips from ABC’s Wide World of Sports, which debuted in 1961 with host Jim McKay. Ask participants to share a “thrill of victory . . . agony of defeat” moment with the group.


The 1920s has often been called the Golden Age of Sports. All types of sports drew public attention – baseball, football, boxing, tennis, golf, swimming. Many people listened to the events on their newly acquired radios. Celebrate the sports heroes and celebrities of the 1920s with a trivia quiz. Ask participants to name the sport associated with each person and to share some of his or her achievements.

  1. Knute Rockne – Notre Dame football coach
  2. Jack Dempsey – heavyweight boxing champion
  3. Gertrude Ederle – first woman to swim the English Channel
  4. Red Grange – “Galloping Ghost” – University of Illinois running back
  5. Helen Wills – world champion in women’s tennis
  6. Babe Ruth – “The Great Bambino” – Yankee baseball’s home-run hitter
  7. Johnny Weissmuller – Olympic swimming star (he later played Tarzan in the movies)
  8. Sonja Henie – Olympic figure skater (later starred in movies)
  9. Bobby Jones – national golf champion
  10. Ty Cobb – “The Georgia Peach” – Hall of Fame baseball player and manager

For fun: Watch the 1940 movie Knute Rockne – All American, the life story of the successful Notre Dame football coach, starring Pat O’Brien and Ronald Reagan.


“When we do the best that we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life or in the life of another.” ~ Helen Keller

“FITNESS FUN AND FELLOWSHIP” written by Sue Hansen. © 2007 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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