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Aging Athletes...Have No Fear

Remember the movie that Sylvester Stallone put out in 2006 named Rocky Balboa? If you grew up in the 70s and 80s and you were not living off the grid in some far off place you remember all the Rocky movies and were probably more than a little stunned, shocked, “serious Stallone?”, when he released “Rocky Balboa” 30 years after he first took to the ring. A “mid-fifties” boxer stepping back into the ring against the heavyweight champ…seems a bit far-fetched. But maybe not that far-fetched according to this study/survey which found that living a sedentary lifestyle was the biggest reason for physical decline in athletic performance not aging as many of us would (like?) to believe.

So could Rocky Balboa really have been able to compete in the boxing ring against a much younger opponent? Many will remember George Foreman reclaiming the Heavyweight boxing title 20 years later at the age of 45 against a 26 year old opponent. At 42 years old Baseball Pitcher Nolan Ryan found himself on the American League All-Star Team and play in the major leagues until he was 46 years old. Ned Overend, mountain biking legend, in 2010 at the age of 55 won the US National Single Speed Championships….that is a mountain bike with only one gear. Finally, there is Ed Whitlock who at the age of 72 ran a sub 3 hour marathon; 2:59:10. Amazing! And then at 74 ran a 2:58:40…lowering his time. Perhaps Rocky could have reentered the boxing ring against a much younger opponent and not get beaten senseless.

Aging does appear to favor the endurance athlete as opposed to the power athlete. The study mentioned above which focused on marathon runners, reports there is no significant age-related decline in performance before age of 55 and after that only moderate decline. They also reported 25% of the 65-69 year old runners were faster than 50% of the 20 to 54 year olds. Nice! This study showed there is a faster decline in strength. It does not give age breakdowns other than to say the age group was between 30s and 90s and that a decline is seen faster in weight lifting as opposed to endurance and sprinting events.

Those athlete in their 40s and 50s can hopefully rejoice at the prospect of being able to remain competitive with the younger generation for years to come. Decline is natural but that decline is something that we have more control over than we tend to think possible. This is really exciting! The human body adapts and want to exercise and move. The “Godfather of fitness” Jack Lalanne is living proof of what an aging body can do. This man at the age of 96 stills shows up at the gym for 30 minutes of cardiovascular work and 90 minutes of lifting weights. In his 60s he did feats of strength and endurance that surely anyone can appreciate such as swimming across open water pulling boats while handcuffed. And I would bet at 96 he can still outdo a great deal of the population in number of pull ups and push ups.

Thanks for reading.

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