Ask Wes DeVoe about his history playing sports and he’ll tell you, “I was born with a ball in my hand.”
The 72-year-old Ballston Lake resident started at age 5 and hasn’t stopped since.
DeVoe was part of Mechanicville High School’s baseball, basketball and football teams and played intramural baseball for a year at Siena College.
Since then, the General Electric retiree has played softball and golf, has done some downhill skiing, and takes an aerobics class three days a week at the Greater Glenville YMCA.
Keeping active from a young age has helped him to stay healthy, he speculated.
“I’ve never been in the hospital. I don’t think I ever really got hurt at all,” he said. “I always have considered myself to be in pretty good shape and a lot of that is, I think, because I kept active for years.”
A new study published in BMC Public Health helps to confirm DeVoe’s suspicion. The study, “Fit in 50 Years,” tracked over 700 World War II veterans who were healthy as young men and surveyed them 50 years later for behavior, background and personality factors that improved their health at age 70.
According to the researchers, the most surprising result of the study was that the subjects who played a high school sport reported visiting their doctor fewer times a year.
“We found that many of those who were active on a team over 50 years ago are more likely to be active into their late 70s and as a result have overall better health,” said Brian Wansink of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, in a news release. Wansink conducted the study along with Simone Dohle of ETH Zurich.
Eric Aronowitz, an orthopedic surgeon with Schenectady Regional Orthopedic Associates, said he was not surprised by what the study revealed.
“I think intuitively it makes sense that the more active you are as a younger person, that there’s a better chance that you’re going to be more active as an elderly person,” he said.
Bill Purdy of Charlton, who ran Welbourne and Purdy Realty until his retirement, also fits the study’s profile.
The 79-year-old played football and basketball and also did shot put and track while attending high school in Hammond, Indiana. During college, he played football, lacrosse and intramural sports. Today, his sport of choice is pickleball.
“It’s sort of a combination between ping-pong, tennis and badminton. Put them together and it comes out to be a pretty good sport, but it’s got a terrible name,” he said with a chuckle.
Purdy admitted that he has had some health problems over the years, but said there is no question that keeping physically active has helped him to stay a healthier person.
“One of the difficulties I have now is that I am probably the oldest person around [playing pickleball]. Rarely do I find that I’m playing against someone who’s older,” he said.
Mental and physical heath
Jack Scirocco of Scotia played on the Schenectady Little League baseball team that went to the 1954 World Series. He didn’t stick with baseball, though. His sport of choice at Schenectady High School and Niagara University was basketball. These days, to stay active, the retired elementary school teacher shoots hoops, helps his wife run a daycare center, swims and rides a bike. The 72-year-old said his history of physical activity has helped to keep him healthy, but it’s not the only contributing factor.
“I don’t think that sports are the main reason for living a longer life. I think you have to be mentally happy first of all, but you can’t leave out the physical part of it either,” he explained. “You have to be involved actively; you have to be doing things that keep you physically going. If you can be happy at what you’re doing, that’s the first step. You have to have a happy marriage, you have to have a happy environment, you have to be around people who are positive. That all leads to keeping your mental health prosperous and that leads to a healthier body, I think.”
Being physically active can help both physiologically and physically, Aronowitz noted.
“It can change your overall feeling about yourself,” he explained. “From an orthopedic standpoint, our bones like some sort of impact activity and to help fight osteoporosis, impact activity can be very beneficial.”
It can be a lot of fun, too, DeVoe added.
“You can do all sorts of things. You don’t necessarily have to play competitive football or baseball. We have a family flag football game every Thanksgiving. I still play, but I’m not as active in the game as I used to be because my younger siblings and my grandkids now are playing and they knock me down,” he said with amusement.
Not too late
Those who have not exercised in the past can start now and still reap benefits, Aronowitz assured. He suggested working with a personal trainer to tailor an appropriate workout.
“You need to start slow, with low impact activities and you need to slowly progress, otherwise you are definitely going to hurt yourself if you try to go too quickly and do too much impact activity too soon,” he cautioned.
Purdy suggested finding a physical activity that’s fun.
“I’ve never been a runner. I just cannot run for running’s sake, but if you throw out a ball, I’ll chase it,” he illustrated. “Find something you like. If it’s running, that’s fine. If it’s chasing a ball, that’s good too.”