Losing fitness with age is a fear and a worry for so many people. We read it in magazines and in newspapers all the time, we even get it from our doctor. But, is it really all downhill from here? No! That’s my sincere answer and I’ll tell you why. If you’ve been a full time, elite athlete from an early age and you compare your fitness over an entire career you will see a pattern. An increase in fitness/performance up to your personal peak followed by a very, very gradual decrease over the following decades. So, only if you have trained perfectly for one specific event your entire life would you be guaranteed to lose fitness with age. Even then, we can only say this about your specific event/sport. The majority of us non elites (99% of the population) do not fit this mould. For this reason, there is little truth in the statement that you will only lose speed, muscle, fitness with age.
Don’t Believe Everything You Read
A lot of what is written in magazines comes from the research of elite sports science laboratories. The kind of experiments and the sort of data they are working with are really only relevant to highly active, competitive athletes. This is the very reason that these folks wouldn’t do elite research on the average Joe or Jo off the street. What’s more, popular journalism has a habit making headlines out of claims from minor (under powered) studies just to make a splash. This was one of the biggest drivers to starting this very blog.
Wrong Wrong Wrong
I accept that when I am 85 I will not be able to run like I do in my 30’s. What I am really talking about though is the damaging misinterpretation of the ageing principle. Messages like, “you reach your strength peak at 30” that leave people feeling that after that age there is little point in trying to get stronger. WRONG! Or that your ability to make new muscle (protein synthesis) suddenly drops off after a certain age. Oh, and my personal favourite, “you dramatically lose cardio vascular fitness with age.” WRONG and WRONG again! There is some scientific foundation to these ideas as mentioned above, but, for reasons I’ll make very clear, we don’t need to be told that “it’s all downhill from here.”
Words Can Disempower, Or Truly Empower
My grandfather was an army physical training instructor (PTI), a champion boxer, gymnast and exemplary soldier. He remained fit and active all of his life, well into his seventies. One day, at a routine doctor’s appointment, the GP flippantly said to my grandad, “You can’t build muscle in old age, you’re just going to lose it and there’s nothing you can do about it.” With that, my grandfather had the wind sucked from his sails and lost his enthusiasm to exercise in one fail swoop. Thanks to the ignorant and incompassionate words of one doctor. He went from being a man of strength and resilience to acting like an old man. It was heart breaking. Have you or anyone you know experienced this? Perhaps you know someone who has reached a certain birthday and started to act “old.” The wrong message can devastate people.
You Can Get Fit At Any Age
I train with clients in their eighties and nineties and see frequent improvements in their balance, strength and stamina. When challenged with new activities and movement patterns, their bodies and brains respond and adapt amazingly. Some of my most energetic clients are in there fifties and sixties, sprinting, jumping and commando rolling. Some of whom thought that exercise was no longer for them.I firmly believe that you can do great things at any age and that exercise is equally valuable at every stage of life.
The Empowering Truth
Imagine you’ve never done a day of exercise in your life. You don’t have any diseases or injuries, but you’re just horribly unfit. Suddenly at 45 you take up regular exercise. Now, it doesn’t matter what exercise you take up, with every day that passes, you’re getting fitter, stronger and will soon be fitter at 45 than you were at 40. Keep this going a few more weeks and you’re fitter than you were at 30 and there’s nothing to stop you from being fitter than your 20 year old self. You see where I’m going with this? I have real life examples of men and women who are hands down fitter in their forties, fifties and even sixties than they were in their twenties. So don’t go telling me that you only lose fitness with age.
Take it from me, if you’ve never run before, you could be the best runner you have ever been by starting now. If you have never stretched, you could be more flexible now than you were years ago. If you have run all your life, but never lifted weights or done gymnastics, you could be stronger and more mobile now than you ever imagined. Even for the retired elite athlete, there are things you can learn to do now that you have never before been able to do. Take up dance, parkour, rowing, climbing or downhill mountain biking let your imagination run wild.
You can be fitter now than ever before, the possibilities are endless. You may like to read this previous post relating to ageing.