My blog last week was about how I feel slower when running, and I put that down to ageing. I am reading an article in my Fitness Journal which is about high performing athletes overcoming ageing to some extent. There are some interesting stats in their introduction :
The ‘potential for peak physiological capacity’ is generally recognised as being in one’s mid- to late 30s. After this point a steady linear decline occurs of 1-1.5% per year in all physiological functions until mid- to late 60s. At this point an exponential rate of decline begins, and each year can show a higher percentage decline over the previous year. At these rates, an untrained individual at age 70 might expect to have only 50-65% of their 35 year old capacity.”
Quite scary to think of only being able to do half of what you could do aged 35.
They state that masters athletes seem to be able to slow these rates down by half, enabling them to retain 70-82% of their 35 year old capacity at age 70.
A vast amount of factors are at play affecting rates of decline in function including, to name just a few –
increased catabolic processes (muscle breakdown), such as low grade inflammation
decreased healthy mitochondria,
fewer motor neurons (signalling mechanisms),
hormonal changes, (e.g. less growth hormone, melatonin, thyroid hormone, testosterone, higher cortisol)
changes in heart musculature and signalling = slowed O2 delivery
fewer blood vessels
The good news is that with exercise we can slow the natural decline. As with our younger selves it is necessary to progressively overload the body in order to get stronger or faster, but our aim may be merely to delay decline and maintain physical capacity.
As cited in the Fitness Journal, 71 year old Gene Dykes set an unofficial world best in the 70-74 year old age group marathon, running 2:54.23 (6:39 minutes per mile)! This stunning speed is clearly humanly possible, so perhaps the least we can do it respect our bodies’ capabilities by doing the best we can to stay fit and functional.