Studies show physical activity and social interaction improve the cognitive ability of older adults and delay the onset of functional limitations. Studies also indicate it's never too late to become physically active and get those benefits. VOA's June Soh met a group of Washington area seniors who call themselves the Golden Girls, a term that has been around for a while and generally refers to women over 50. Their activities appear to prove those studies are valid.
Janet Weeks is 75 years old. She plays softball regularly at this field outside Washington, along with other members of the Golden Girls, a softball organization for senior women.
"There was an ad in the newspaper that said 'looking for people age 50 and over to play ball.' And I said, 'that's me,'" said Weeks.
That was 22 years ago. Weeks is one of the 13 original Golden Girls. Today, the group has more than 170 members.
Marilyn Mallery, 68, has been with the Golden Girls for 18 years. She serves as its public relations officer.
"All our players have to be at least 40 years old," Mallery said. "There is no upper limit and we have several ladies who are in their upper 70s and early 80s still playing. We have a league consisting of four teams."
Mallery says the league has women at all skill levels. Some of them have never played before and others have played all their lives. But many of them are like Shirley Thompson, 74, who joined the group five years ago.
"I played it back in 1955 when I was in high school," Thompson recalled. "I was a little nervous, but once I got out and watched the team play, and they have fun, and so I thought, 'I can do it.' So I got new gloves, new shoes, and went out and tried it and enjoy it very much."
Thompson also says she feels healthier than before.
"I have arthritis in my fingers… but by playing ball, I am staying active," Thompson added. "I am using them so they do not bother me, I can still use them a lot. And I think that is one good thing about playing ball. It does help your arthritis from stiffing up on you."
For more competitive players, the Golden Girls field tournament teams, that travel all over the country for games.
"At the moment, we have five tournament teams, a 50, 55, 60, 65, and 70-year-old team," noted Mallery. "We are the only softball organization in the United States, and I am sure in the world, that can field five tournament teams simultaneously. So it makes us very, very special."
George Hersey, a certified umpire with the Amateur Softball Association - and husband of one of the Golden Girls - is the coach. He says the teams are very serious about their games and hate to lose.
"These girls on several occasions have won a gold medal playing softball in the Olympics, in the Senior Olympics," said Hersey. "They have been traveling around since 1995 and been going to the Olympics ever since and they have done very well. They have never finished lower than third place."
But the Golden Girls say the best part is their friendship.
"I think you need to have the friends and the backing because they all back each other and help each other," Thompson explained. "And no one gets down if you make a mistake; we all just get in there and support each other. I think we really like it."
Every Saturday, once the weather gets warm, each team plays two games back-to-back. Then they practice for about two hours.
"You get accustomed to it," said Weeks. "You build up your strength. It is hard the first two or three Saturdays and then after that you just kind of go and you get used to it. You are tired when you go home, but it is a good tired. "
Weeks says being a member of the Golden Girls has been a life changing experience. Signing up, she adds, was the best decision she ever made.