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Aging Well: Ice hockey scores multiple health benefits

Those who play ice hockey can continue the sport into their 60s, 70s, and beyond, reaping multiple benefits to physical and mental health.

When it comes to sports that you can play for decades, ice hockey is a surprise contender.

“Unlike running, ice skating is very gentle on your knees,” John Dubeck points out. John has been a passionate hockey player for more than 50 years. “It’s a great way to exercise your legs and maintain your balance,” he says. “And it’s an ideal way to get cardio exercise while your focus is on playing well instead of counting the minutes you’ve been running. You’re typically going fast in two-minute bursts, so you’re also improving your anerobic metabolism.”

Since retiring, he plays twice a week at the popular GeriHatricks senior hockey club in West Laurel, Maryland. Currently in Arlington, John and his wife Susan Hotine are planning a move to The Mather, a Life Plan Community for those 62 and better, in Tysons later this year.

“The Mather seems to offer more than other senior living residences we looked at,” says John. “It feels like we’re essentially moving into a place that’s a high-end hotel.” He adds that they are ready to simplify, and like the idea of no longer worrying about leaking roofs and broken water pipes. “Plus, I’m looking forward to moving into a new community with people who are also new there. That appeals to me.”

John began playing hockey at Cornell University in the late 1960s. He says, “That was during the years that Cornell won the NCAA hockey championship, so everyone on campus played intramural hockey — fraternities, clubs, even the student newspaper had a hockey team. The fact that I already knew how to skate gave me a tremendous advantage.” He quickly caught the hockey bug and, after graduating, has played in several different leagues over the years.

“I used to play wing, but as I got older, I moved to defense,” he says. “When I started playing with the GeriHatricks after I retired, I was one of the younger players, so I was immediately told I was a center.” GeriHatricks games are no-check — meaning little or minimal contact — so injuries are few. Their pick-up games last about two hours. “The range of talent there is extraordinary,” says John.

Needless to say, John strongly recommends hockey as a pastime that ages well. A study in the Journal of Sports Science backs him up, showing that physically active men aged 35 and better who regularly play ice hockey are healthier than those who don’t play. They have significantly lower rates of hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes.

And there is a mental health benefit to hockey as well: John points out that attention and calculation are needed throughout the game. “It’s a moving geometry game; you’re always figuring angles because you can play off the boards, and all players are in motion,” he says.

John will continue to play hockey and pursue other interests after his move to Tysons. “The Mather is close enough to where we are now that we don’t have to change our lifestyle. We can still jump on the Metro to see the Caps play,” he says.

The Mather, opening in early 2024 in Tysons, VA, for those 62 and better, is a forward-thinking Life Plan Community that defies expectations of what senior living is supposed to be.

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