Don’t Lose Sight of Fitness

Having a physically active lifestyle is important for all Americans, but it is especially beneficial for older adults because it can help them stay independent longer, avoid disability, and improve their overall quality of life, according to doctors at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Older adults with vision loss can and should exercise, say the experts at the American Foundation for the Blind, which recently launched a website to encourage this group to stay active and involved in aspects of their daily lives. “Having vision loss does not mean you are helpless. Many activities like golf, bowling, and skiing have been adapted so people with vision loss can participate,” says Carl R. Augusto, AFB President and CEO. “However, just walking more every day can help older adults achieve better fitness.” He cautions, however, that older adults, especially those with chronic conditions like diabetes, glaucoma, and macular degeneration, need to check with their doctor before starting to exercise. Being active doesn’t have to mean participating in a structured program or doing strenuous exercise, say aging experts. In fact, older adults can achieve recommended amounts of physical activity mainly by going for walks. Walking is a good option for all older adults: it is a low impact, weight-bearing activity that can be done practically anywhere—weather permitting. It takes no special equipment, except for a sturdy pair of walking shoes. Many shopping malls even open early to give community residents an opportunity to walk indoors in comfort and safety, an important consideration for people with vision loss. Recruiting an exercise partner to walk, golf, swim, or even ride a tandem bike together has many benefits for older adults with vision loss. A sighted partner can help them navigate unfamiliar territory, and the social interaction combined with the physical activity is a double boost to their mental well-being.

The Sporting Life

People who have enjoyed sports all their lives do not have to give them up because of vision loss. There are several national adapted sports organizations for people who are blind or have vision loss, including groups for golf, bowling and skiing. “You don’t have to see it to tee it,” is the slogan of the U.S. Blind Golf Association, whose members follow the same procedures and play on the same courses as sighted golfers. The only exception is that blind (or low vision) golfers rely on a coach to guide them in setting up a proper stance to hit the ball and to estimate the distance that the ball must travel.
woman advises man on his golf shot on a golf course Bruce Hooper and his golfing coach, his wife Judy Hooper.
Similarly, blind bowlers rely on either a sighted guide to position them to deliver the bowling ball, or use a guide rail set up on the edge of the lane that allows them to slide one hand along the rail as they deliver the ball with the other. Someone with sight is needed to tell a blind bowler which pins are knocked down and/or how many pins are left standing. “Bowling, if it’s done right, is repetitive. It’s just a matter of taking the same number of steps and getting your feet in the right place,” says Stan Smith, 66, of the Blind Bowlers Association in Delaware.
man with dark glasses using a guide rail to bowl Setting a guide rail up along the bowling lane helps bowlers with vision loss stay in the game.
All photos copyright © 2006 by Earl Dotter & AFB. To use the photos on this page in your print or online publication, please contact