How does Age Affect Performance?

It happens to all of us and some people find it creeps up and slaps us round the face a little faster than we would like, but how does Age affect Performance, is there a way to slow this down?

During childhood, the human body grows and develops quickly. Then, as we enter our teenage years, hormones such as testosterone and estrogen cause the body composition and proportions to change and the body acquires its final shape and size.

The period between 15 and 30 years of age is when the human body can reach its highest performance level – with systematic training of course. When we reach 30, however, things slowly begin to change: Not straight away, but gradually over time the bones begin to lose calcium and other minerals which results in a lower bone density. The skeleton becomes less resistant and the body becomes more prone to fractures and other injuries.

At the same time muscles retain less and less electrolytes, calcium and water. As a result of this, the muscle mass slowly starts to decrease and with this, the overall strength of the body.

The elasticity of the joints and ligaments also decreases with age. This affects our range of motion, causing the human body to get stiffer and making some movements a lot more difficult to perform.

Unfortunately, that’s not all. The cardiopulmonary system also changes: the lungs become less elastic, while the heart muscle mass shrinks. These contribute to a weaker cardiopulmonary performance in terms of oxygen uptake and transport to the muscles and organs. This change has a direct impact on the body’s endurance levels and also means we take more time to recover.

To sum it up, after the age of 30, your overall physical fitness starts going downhill. Your muscle mass, force, endurance, and range of motion begin to decrease, whereas the rigidity of your joints begins to increase. On top of that, recovery, after intense physical effort or after suffering an injury is not only tougher for the body but it also takes longer.

The ‘sweet-spot’ age

In most sports, there is an age “sweet spot,” at which the combination of physical, technical and strategic abilities comes together.

In most sports, this age sweet spot falls in the mid-20’s to early 30’s. Although there have been numerous examples of Olympians competing, and sometimes winning medals, over the age of 50, the vast majority of these come from sports requiring exceptional skill and less aerobic or anaerobic power, such as the shooting events, sailing, equestrian and fencing.

For endurance events, the upper cap for competing at the sport’s highest levels appears to be around the age of 40.

Chris Horner won the 2013 edition of the Vuelta a Espana, Spain’s version of the Tour de France, just shy of his 42nd birthday, making him the oldest winner of a Grand Tour in cycling.

The oldest Olympic marathon winner was the 38-year-old Romanian athlete Constantina Dita Tomescu, competing at the Beijing Olympic Games.

Dara Torres, at the age of 41 in 2008, is the oldest swimmer to compete in the history of the Olympics, missing the gold medal in the 50-meter freestyle by hundredths of a second. But these examples are the exceptions, not the rule,sod otn hang up those trainers yet and be that exception to the rule. 

So, what does this mean for our athletic performance?

Well, if you’ve ever watched high-level sports competitions, you may have noticed that there are rarely any top athletes over the 30 – and now you know why that might be. But the good news is, this doesn’t mean that it has to be all over for you.

According to research, there is one area which isn’t affected by age as much as all the others: endurance. Slow twitch muscle fibers are less affected by aging than the type II – or fast-twitch – fibers. Some muscles consist largely of slow twitch fibers, which are very resistant against fatigue and can maintain strength output for long durations. They are the fibers mainly used during endurance events, as the type II fibers used for explosive movements fatigue very fast. In addition, even if the cardiopulmonary system changes, it can be trained considerably well in older bodies.

In fact, older endurance athletes even have a crucial advantage: experience. After years of training, they have created strategies based on experiences and know how to balance their training and recovery periods. Experience allows them to understand the best way to adjust their physical effort and where to draw the line to avoid injuries during the effort. Mental strength is also an important reward of years of training. This allows athletes to endure strong physical efforts more easily.

But just how ‘fit’ should we be at our age?  I have devised a checklist for each generation. While press-ups and burpees are important, the list proves that it takes more than cardio just to be defined as “Fit” 

In your 20s you should be able to...

  • Run 5km in 30 minutes
  • Do 20 burpees in a row
  • Hold a full plank for one minute

In your 30s you should be able to...

  • Run a mile in less than 9 minutes
  • Hold a plank for  1:25 seconds
  • Deadlift more than 50 percent of your bodyweight

In your 40s you should be able to...

  • Sprint for 60 seconds without stopping
  • Do 10 press-ups without stopping
  • Touch your toes comfortably with straight legs

In your 50s you should be able to...

  • Run at a moderate pace for 60 seconds without stopping
  • Do five burpees without stopping
  • Lower yourself into a cross-legged position on the floor without using your hands, and then return to standing.

In your 60s you should be able to...

  • Regularly take more than 10,000 steps in a day
  • Do 12 bodyweight squats without stopping
  • Touch your fingertips with one hand over your shoulder and the other behind your back (Think Triceps Stretch) 

In your 70s you should be able to...

  • Walk a mile in less than 16 minutes
  • Climb a flight of stairs with 10 steps in under 30 seconds comfortably
  • Rise to stand from a chair without using your hands or arms, and repeat at least 12 times in 30 seconds

So, if you listen to your body and are aware of the increasing risk of injury as you get older, age shouldn’t be a problem nor an excuse. Workouts might seem tougher, recovery might take longer, and progress could seem slower, but everything is still possible. Age is a number. So, even if there are biological changes in your body, it doesn’t mean you need to stop working on yourself. 

There is no age limit to being fit. Start now, finish never.