Why Athletes Slow Down As They Get Older

To get a better understanding why athletes performances decline with age it is important to know the following.

Athletic performance is more noticeable in individual sports against the clock compared to group and team sports like cycling racing and football. Tactics make it far more difficult to compare like for like comparisons.
To stop slowing down you need to consider that you still need to be consistent train hard and easy but most importantly rest more frequently.
As Ironmate says don’t “Train like a pro and rest like an amateur”
Make training routine and missing sessions on a regular basis will quickly cause a decline in fitness levels. This is far more noticeable as we get older so my golden rule is
You get a gold medal for training often and reducing the decline not how far you occasionally go.
Aerobic capacity declines as we get older.
Heredity the way we live and the environment all can affect us as an athlete.

(a) Get back into Athlete -The aging athlete can be either someone who has Not exercised for a period of time and expects to perform as they did years ago.
(b) Premature athlete -The person who continually gets injured and has become slower ahead of their time sometimes a as result of not listening to their body and resting when they should have.
(c) The athlete who has trained all their lives apart from a few injuries and continues to train the same way as they did 5-10-15 or even 20 years ago without adjusting to a slower recovery rate.

V02 also declines form our max in our 20’s. V02 max  this is the millilitres  in relation to kilogram of body weight  per minute .Elite male athletes have recorded scores above 80% and elite females high 70%
As we get older V02 max declines because of
(1) Reduced maximum Heart rate
(2) Reduction in Heart’s stroke volume (volume of blood pumped each heart beat)
Both of the above means less amount of blood to the muscles with oxygen and nutrients and less blood to take away carbon dioxide a waste product of exercise.

Our theoretical maximum heart rate (HR) is 220 minus or age so a 20 year old should in theory have a max on 220-20 = 200.
We are all individual
A 50 years sedentary person would expect to have a max heart rate of 220-50 = 170 however an active person may slow this decline down a little.
I trained with a 56 year old who had been in competitive sport for over 30 years whose max HR was 179 estimating it should have only been 164
So the theory goes 1 beat reduction in maximum heart rate each year the older you are or 10 beasts every decade for sedentary people while physically active should expect only a decline of 5-6 beats very 10 years.
I am now 50 and have a maximum heart rate of 178 compared to a theory chart that would show 170.

With regular hard vigorous exercise you can delay the decline of lungs tissues stiffening.
It’s this loss of elasticity that causes a reduced amount of air flow with each breath.

During anaerobic exercise enzymes that are needed to breakdown carbohydrate for fuel for energy declines as we get older making hard efforts harder the older we are.

As we get older or blood volume declines resulting in our heart rate increasing much quicker when we exercise.

When oxygen metabolism occurs free radical chemical compounds occur which link with healthy cells causing oxidative damage to occur, (Like metal that rusts)
Antioxidants can reduce this free radical damage occurring so making it a daily routine to have vitamin C and vitamin E

This is the range from resting to maximum heart rate also known as heart rate range When you are 20 with a maximum heart rate of 200 and a resting heart rate of 45 your Tidal range is 200 minus 45 = 155 beats. Compare this tidal range with a 60 year old that has a maximum HR 165 and resting heart rate of 52 this athlete has a tidal HR range of 113

From 40 years of age testosterone levels decline by one per cent. This small decline year on year on its own cannot be responsible for a male getting older other factors also contribute.

Levels can also be much lower if you do not eat a variety of healthy foods and if taking medication.
Low testosterone levels will result in more obvious symptoms such as loss of energy and fatigue and sleep disturbances.
 Other signs of a drop in testosterone levels also include poor circulation, loss of muscle mass and strength. Increase in upper body fat and fat around the stomach area, increase in heart and artery disease.
Memory loss and reduced intellectual ability can be sensitive to even a slight drop in testosterone levels

A 20 year has peak testosterone in the morning as we get older levels are released more consistently throughout the day and night.

Testosterone affects the whole body making the heart liver lungs all bigger than females.

Adult Men produce about 10 times more testosterone than an adult female of similar age, however females are much more sensitive to this hormone affects behavior rather than female body

If we look at every factor that contributed towards a decline in performance as we age most people would have slow down a lot more than they actually do
We all have different life styles and train differently and this also changes throughout or lives. Keeping a training diary would be your most important asset only if you looked back and learnt more about how you absorbed and adapted to the training.
Don’t forget training stress levels outside work also contribute to the bigger picture of life long fitness and delaying fitness performance.
Reduction is intensity can also be responsible for lack of athletic performance past 50
Comparing VO2 max of a 20 year old to a 50, 60 or even a 70 year is not science comparing the individual over many decades will only give scientist a true answer to declining performance as we mature over many decades.
Remember we are all individual so don’t throw the towel in many people are able to perform much better in their 50’s than they ever did in their 20 or 30’s
How to become an ageless athlete
“Train and rest like a pro”
(1) Train consistently as though your life depended on it
(2) Take time out weekly not just when you are tired
(3) Us your experience

Heart fitness will reduce with lack of use, so thankfully any type of exercise will work the heart. So having time off from your sport and trying something different during each year, mid season and the end of the season is vital for long term fitness.
Having a healthy heart is paramount to pumping blood around the body.

The lungs need to worked hard regularly to keep the elasticity of the chest wall & lungs

Both the capacity of the heart and lungs can soon lose their ability to function once we reach 40.

From my experience competing for over 30 years and coaching and helping literally hundreds of athletes many fail to develop their aerobic capacity in their mature years.
The foundation of fitness requires the ability to improve the following
Increase the capillary network in the muscles
Use fat to the best of your ability for fuel during exercise rather than rely on carbohydrate
Increase the capacity for storing glycogen in the body

To improve the above the athlete MUST regularly train their aerobic endurance.
This should be from 60% to 85% of your lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR)
Your average Lactate Threshold Heart rate (HR) is the average HR you can maintain for 30-55 minutes. So if your average HR for 55 minutes is 150 then your range would be 90 -128. It may seem very easy to train between this range but you are building up aerobic fitness which allows you to go hard and recover much better during

Every 40-50-60 year is different we are all different regarding the amount of rest and recovery we need.
If you have reduced the outside stress in your life you may be able to perform or cope with more training better as a 50 year old than you did at 40.
By listening to your body you will soon discover what works best for you. You must consider accumulative fatigue when planning an easy active day or complete rest day.
You may get tired from 4 consecutive days training or 3 hard days in 7 days but the tiredness may not show until 1-8 days later.
Having quality sleep good foods plenty of relaxation may still not be enough a complete rest day is what you might need.
Taking your resting heart rate in the first 30 minutes after waking up is only part of the picture.
If you have the need to sleep after an endurance workout then it could be because you have used up amino acids resulting in a chemical reaction that increases the serotonin which makes us sleepy.
Over living (feels like being on a treadmill that is always going too fast) can be worse than over training. You simply need to take time out not only when you are sleeping!

To counteract the damaging effects of oxygen in the tissues, by reducing free radical damage that can be caused from exercise (molecules reacting with oxygen) make sure you have daily amounts of Foods that contain antioxidants.
Free radical damage shows itself as aging and disease.

CEREALS – Barley, Corn, Millet and Oats
FRUITS FRESH– Berries (Blackberries, Blueberry, Cherry, Cranberries, Grapes, Grapefruit, Kiwi Fruit & Papaya.
Oranges, Pineapple, Plums, Pomegranate, Raspberry & Strawberries
FRUITS DRIED –Apricots Dates & Prunes
LEGUMES – Broad beans & Soya beans
NUTS –Ground nuts, Hazelnuts, Pecan Nuts, sunflower seeds and Walnuts.
SPICES –Cinnamon, Cloves & Oregano
VEGETABLES –Artichoke, Beetroot, Broccoli, Brussels Cabbage, Cauliflower, Parsnips, Sprouts, Ginger,  lemon, Parsley, Peppers, Red Cabbage, Turnip and water cress. Spinach. Most Fresh dark green vegetables are also high in antioxidants
Purple foods contain very high levels healthy and are rich in antioxidants – Grapes Peppers and blueberries.
Other foods include some varieties of the following foods –Breakfast Cereals (certain brands), Chocolate, Coffee, First press olive oil, Popcorn, Tea (Green Tea) Walnuts & Wine

20 Year old  athlete
Theoretical maximum heart arte for sedentary person = 220-20 = 200
Theoretical maximum heart rate for active person 204
Maximum heart rate is highest in our 20’s
An athlete in their late 30’s will have their peak number of capillary networks.
Between 20 & 30 this person will be at their strongest then after 30 strength will decline.

30 Year old athlete
Theoretical maximum heart arte for sedentary person 190
Theoretical maximum heart rate for active person194
An athlete in their late 30’s peak number of capillary networks
Start of decline of the immune system
“Use it or lose it” fast twitch muscles will now start to decline much quicker than slow twitch muscles.

40 years old athlete
Theoretical maximum heart arte for sedentary person 180
Theoretical maximum heart rate for active person 188
From mid to late 40’s expect to become more short sighted and will need reading glasses
Immune system will decline even more than when 30
Greater decline of muscle elasticity

50 years old athlete
Theoretical maximum heart arte for sedentary person 170
Theoretical maximum heart rate for active person 182
More urine production which then reduces blood volume so results in less oxygen and fuel for the working muscles.
Range of movement (ROM) is far more noticeable and joints will start to stiffen
A physically active 50 year old can still almost have the same number of capillaries as they did when they were 25 providing they have been exercising for most of the last 25 years
Sweat rate is less than when we were 20 because of drier skin so this does not allow us to keep as cool when we are getting hotter.

Chest wall stiffens
Sweat rate reduces making it hard to work at the best body temperature.

All the above factors can reduce your performance by 4/5% so expect to be about 3 minutes slower for 40km than you were at 40

60 years old athlete
Theoretical maximum heart arte for sedentary person 160
Theoretical maximum heart rate for active person 174
At 60 the average person will only have 50-60% of our peak breathe flow from when we were 20.
Our immune system will also start to decline much more rapidly.
One maximum peak breath at 50 years old can be 50% of what is was when you were 20

70 year old athletes
Theoretical maximum heart arte for sedentary person 150
Theoretical maximum heart rate for physically active person 166
Even the most active person who remains the same weight can have 30% body fat as our ratio of lean muscle mass declines and fat increases.

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