Coping with the effects of aging and playing sports-agggghhh!
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.” George Bernard Shaw
In athletics, (as in life) one thing is predictable. Athletes peak performance is at a certain age, (depending upon the sport), and then performance starts to decline.
There’s a particular period we can refer to as the ‘prime age’ for athletes where they can combine various factors; physical and technical abilities strategically to advance in their sport. This is usually between the mid-20s to early 30s. Gymnastics has one of the youngest age of retirement; early 20s, recreational endurance athletes can improve throughout their 40s (Sister Madonna Buder, known as the “Iron Nun,” is still competing in Ironman championships at age 91). In Florida, there is a Grand Master 9th Dan in Tae Kwon Do who is still running a successful studio and teaching at age 81.
This is not meant to be a big downer of a post; this is just science. When we start to age, our body no longer maximally utilizes oxygen as well as it used to in our prime years. V02max indicates how much oxygen your body needs per lb body weight. The higher V02max you have, the more aerobically fit you are.
- After the age of 30, V02max declines by 10% per decade because maximal heart rate also declines.
- After the age of 30 (darn that 30th birthday), we start to lose muscle mass at the rate of 5% per decade. After 60 (darn it even more and I should know, I’m there!), the decline is even higher. This loss in mass affects the capacity of the muscle to generate force. Not only that, the cells you need to repair your bones and muscles also decline as you age.
- As an added bonus, the recovery time from hard, enduring exercises takes longer. This inevitably means athletes will have to cut down on training sessions, both in frequency and intensity. Unfortunately, with lesser training sessions, ability and performance also wane.
OK, so them’s the facts. I think of dealing with my aging body like using the principles in Judo. Instead of attacking an opponent head on, you preserve your energy by using the opponent’s own force and momentum to throw them to the ground.
For athletes who are not ready to hang up their shoes as they cross their prime age, the good news is that you can manage and cope with the effects of aging. Here are some tips you can follow:
- As you advance in years, you must remain active. It helps you remain healthy and can also slow down age-related physiological decline by 50%.
- You should also modify your workout training sessions to be suitable for your age. Train smarter, not harder, to help you reduce injuries, strain, and other issues that you may take a while to recover from.
- Try workout sessions that can help you boost your aerobic strength, for instance, High-Intensity Interval Training that focuses on the intensity and not volume. It is more efficient for older athletes to help you make the most of oxygen.
- Try exercises that are less likely to cause injuries (no more extreme skateboarding), but still keep you in shape, like yoga, swimming, walking, dancing to name a few. You maintain your muscle mass and remain flexible with exercise like this.
- Pay attention to everything, even things you would usually pay no mind. Learn to take rests when necessary, or you put yourself at risk of more injuries.
- Focus on what you can do and not what you can’t. I’m so sick of hearing, “Well for your age….fill in the blank.” (e.g., you would expect to see arthritis or you shouldn’t expect to do triathlons). I was told I could no longer run because of the arthritis in my knees. After I got over the initial shock and grieving (which took awhile), I decided I might start training for aquabike competitions and learn how to speedwalk in the meantime. My walking pace isn’t much slower than my running pace anyway lol.
- Work with a therapist who specializes in mental fitness for athletes to help you navigate the challenges that may come with aging. Your mind is an asset that will help you through this period, and so you need it in good condition as you steer a new phase of your career.