Inline Skating for Older Adults     

Inline skating, according to the latest figures provided by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, boasted over 19 million US participants in 2003.  As well it should.  The sport, often known as Rollerblading, offers many health and lifestyle benefits.  However, less than 1% of those participants are over the age of 55.  Unfortunately, this very popular sport seems to have simply passed over much of the older generation.
   
Although inline skates were invented hundreds of years ago and Americans have been roller skating since the 1930s, it wasn't until 1980 that modern inline skates were introduced.  The new concept  with wheels in a line rather than in a square position  caught on quickly as participants realized inline skates were faster, smoother, and more agile than roller skates.
   
Inline skating became a phenomenon, with over 32 million Americans skating by 1998.  Inline skating was one of the fastest growing recreational activities in America and was here to stay.
   
As well it should.  Inline skating offers a number of health benefits.  First, it burns calories.  A 160-pound man skating at a moderate pace (10 miles per hour) can burn 552 calories in an hour, according to a chart on skate manufacturer Rollerblade's website.  Second, inline skating works the major muscle groups, including the calves, thighs, and buttocks.  Third, according to one study inline skating produces half the impact shock to joints as does running.
   
Perhaps the major reason inline skating has become so popular, however, is that it is fun!  Inline skating creates a sense of freedom through motion that makes it feel more like a pastime than a workout, more a joy than a chore.
   
Why is it, then, that inline skating has passed over an entire generation of Americans?   Interviews with older adults who have learned to inline skate suggest two reasons: inline skating is perceived as being both dangerous and difficult.
   
Contrary to popular belief, however, inline skating is actually less dangerous than many other common sports.  An analysis of 1999 Consumer Product Safety Commission statistics by the New York Times showed the incidence of severe injury to inline skaters is only 3.4 per 1000 skaters, less than injury rates for basketball, soccer, softball, and even bicycling.  Falls in inline skating do happen, but with the proper equipment and instruction one can avoid injury.
   
The idea of learning to roll down the sidewalk with eight wheels under your two feet certainly can be intimidating.  Many people simply believe skating is too difficult to learn. Others purchase skates, try them once, and give up due to an inability to stop.  The missing ingredient that can get almost anyone rolling?  Lessons!
   
Inline skating instructors exist in most major cities across America and, with several lessons, most people can master the basics of skating and  more importantly - stopping.  This Applies to skaters of almost any age.  In fact, at Camp Rollerblade, which runs skate camps for both kids and adults, the average age of adult participants is 46 years, with many learners in the 60s and even 70s.
   
Just one example of the hundreds of thousands of older Americans who enjoy inline skating is Leslie Trotta, a 51-year-old Californian.  "I was fast approaching 50 in the fall of 2003 and I knew that I needed to give up jogging due to the pounding on my knees and hips," explains Trotta.  "I decided to try skating because it's such a great low-impact activity.  I took lessons, had tons of fun, made new friends, and learned to skate safely."
   
Proving that one can learn to skate at any age is Jigger Warren, a massage therapist from Arizona.  "At age 70, I thought it would be fun to get into inline skating because it is not only great exercise but it can be a form of meditation," comments Warren, now 75.  "With skating I've improved my balance, body control, agility, cardiovascular fitness, and self esteem." 
   
For any individual learning to skate but especially for older adults it is wise to take a few precautions to make sure the experience is both safe and fun.  Consider these hints to get you rolling:
   
Make sure you are physically fit enough for skating.  While skating is a great way to get into shape, if you are unable to stand up from a sitting position on the ground on your own or have balance problems, inline skating might not be for you.  Check with a doctor - ideally one who inline skates - to see if you are fit enough.
   
Buy a good pair of skates.  Go to a good sporting goods store and expect to pay at least $120.  Cheap plastic skates will hurt your feet and you will never enjoy the sport.
   
Get the proper safety equipment! Always wear a helmet; any good bicycle helmet will do.  In addition, beginner skaters should wear knee pads, elbow pads, and wrist guards.  You might also consider purchasing padded shorts.
   
Take a lesson.  Certified skating instructors will help explain your equipment, teach you how to fall properly so you don't get hurt, and get you both rolling and stopping with confidence.
   
For more information visit the Inline Skating Resource Center at www.iisa.org.

About the Authors: Liz Miller (age 53) is author of the book Get Rolling and the lead instructor at Camp Rollerblade (www.CampRollerblade.com) in Danville, California.  Mike Merriman (age 62) is the lead instructor at Camp Rollerblade in Lanesboro, Minnesota and Hilton Head, South Carolina.
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