"Getting Old" Is It An Excuse?
We've all heard the excuse "I'm old" or "I'm too old for this" etc. Is there any justification behind these excuses? That's what we wanted to find out. In this post, I'm going to essentially break down what we spoke about into bite-size sections. If you want to listen to our thoughts and hear all the other craziness that accompanies our podcast then listen down below!
I'm gonna break this down into 5 key areas
Strength, power & mass
Point to note is that there is an evident decline once you get older and if we look at the top athletes of the world there's a reason we have masters categories however the age excuse should not be used a barrier for exercise and in some cases, it is exaggerated tremendously. If you'd like to see the studies we got our information see here.
Strength, Power & Mass
Strength and mass decline with age starting at roughly 30 BUT good training and nutrition can mitigate this greatly. In some cases, individuals will see no difference for many years. One piece of data found that older population can achieve similar % of strength gains when participating in a resistance programme HOWEVER more sets/reps per week were needed to maintain.
If we look at some top strength/power athletes
Purpose: To quantify age of peak performance and performance improvements in the years preceding peak age in elite weightlifting and powerlifting athletes using results from powerlifting World Championships in 2003-2017 and weightlifting World Championships and Olympic Games in 1998-2017. Methods: Individual performance trends were derived by fitting a quadratic curve separately to each athlete's performance and age data. Effects were evaluated using magnitude-based inferences.
Solberg PA, Hopkins WG, Paulsen G, Haugen TA. Peak Age and Performance Progression in World-Class Weightlifting and Powerlifting Athletes. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2019 Oct 7:1-7. doi: 10.1123/ijspp.2019-0093. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 30958059.
The peak age for male powerlifters was 35 years and the peak age for male weightlifters was 26 years. These novel results point towards something we know about muscle fibres and age. With age, our type 2 muscle fibres degrade more than type 1. Type 2 commonly known as fast-twitch are used a lot more in weightlifting that in powerlifting which perhaps explains why there is such a difference in age.
Getting stronger with age? "Old man strength" This is an interesting point that relies on a few different factors. If you're training with good progressive overload then technically as time goes on you are going to get stronger, powerful and or bigger. Also with age comes experience so in your younger years perhaps your diet/training wasn't as effective as you thought and with age you've managed to adjust some things for much greater gains. As I said before yes at 30 you start to decline however if an individual hones in diet and continues with good resistance training then there is no reason why they cannot mitigate this decline to the point of actually improving. The worse thing you can do for strength and mass as you get older is stop training.
This is an age-related loss in skeletal muscle. This is really important and it's crucial we tackle it the best we can as it can really reduce the quality of life down the line with things such as independence. How can we mitigate this? Ensure adequate protein intake and continued participation in exercise ideally resistance training.
Given the benefit of exercise and protein intake on sarcopenia, numerous studies have shown that combined together, protein and exercise can increase muscle strength and mass in the old
If you take anything away from this section it's that it's so important for future quality of life that as you age you try to keep the nutrition on point (especially protein) and you continue to exercise. Do not use the age excuse. Yes at the elite level it's an excuse in regards to performance however for preventing issues such as sarcopenia it's crucial you put the work in. I personally want to be as independent as possible going into my twilight years.
As I alluded to earlier type 1 muscle fibres degrade slower than type 2. Type 1 is prominently used for endurance activities so bear that in mind when we look at the impacts of age on endurance.
VO2 max decreases after 30 by approx 10% per year BUT can be reduced to around 5% with continued physical activity/ good nutrition. Essentially what happens is our ability to utilise oxygen during exercise decreases. All boils down to our MAX HR technically decreasing with age.
So why are we seeing older champions/records breakers?
This comes back to something I was saying earlier. Age comes with benefits such as experience. I found a quote (now lost) from an older triathlete who was questioned on his improved performance over the later years and his response echos something I said earlier. "Smarter training", "experience with recovery and competition" and "tolerate more pain". So even with the suggested declines if you start to train differently in a way superior to previous then you could, in fact, improve even though the science says otherwise. Also, your body, of course, adapts over time so perhaps the pain tolerance comes from continued "abuse" on these arduous events.
If we take it back to muscle fibres with constant running we are actually recruiting more of these fibres and as I said they degrade slower than type 2 so in fact, with good training and nutrition we can continue to recruit these fibres just maybe not as fast. This could explain the tendency for older ultramarathon runners as they have spent many miles on the road recruiting these fibres.
There are multiple factors regarding this however I want to avoid turning this into a short story so I think the key takeaway is that with age endurance seems to be impacted less however this requires continues dedication in training and the kitchen. It's also not too late to start. If you haven't trained seriously through your 20/30s then when in your 40s and beyond you can still really improve your health markers/performance.
There is a lot of mixed research on this one and a lot of what we hear is based on limited/anecdotal evidence. So as we get older you tend to see an increase in time taken to recover from injuries and perhaps physical training. Once again this is something that data suggests can be mitigated.
One study looked at well-trained triathletes after a 24hr period and concluded
The results indicate that for well-trained subjects, the overall relative exercise intensity during an Olympic distance triathlon and the fatigue 24 h following the event seem to be independent of age.
Sultana, F., Abbiss, C.R., Louis, J. et al. Age-related changes in cardio-respiratory responses and muscular performance following an Olympic triathlon in well-trained triathletes. Eur J Appl Physiol112, 1549–1556 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-011-2115-9
Here's another but looking at recovery on a much shorter time scale so after a bout of intense exercise. (YT = young trained, OT = old trainer, YU = young untrained, OU = Old untrained)
phases of recovery showed no effect of age on HR recovery when comparing YT vs. OT and YU vs. OU. Trained subjects, irrespective of age, demonstrated a significantly faster HR recovery than untrained subjects which was particularly marked during fast-phase recovery (P less than 0.005). These results indicate that the slower HR recovery previously reported in older subjects may be due to a failure to control for variables that influence recovery HR.
The key point is the emphasis on "well trained" suggesting that if you continue with good quality training as you age that perhaps recovery decline is once again mitigated. Or alternatively, with age, these older athletes have adapted to reduced recovery ability and have spent more time/focus on good quality recovery and time spent doing so so that after certain activities it appears there is no difference when in fact they simply spent more quality time on their recovery.
This is one that gets overexaggerated! Yes, there is a slow down in metabolism as we age however its very gradual and relies on numerous lifestyle factors to by how much. % wise current literature seems to suggest 1/2% per decade. So not a lot at all really.
As I mentioned earlier, sarcopenia. This relates heavily to our metabolism as having more skeletal muscle will increase total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). So not only just for reducing the impacts of sarcopenia but for keeping on top of metabolism decline, it's essential that with age we keep up regular exercise and consume sufficient protein. If you get to 40 and knock physical training on the head and eat what you want then yes you're muscles will "waste away" quicker and in turn stop mitigation of metabolism slow down.
Let's look at some more numbers to reinforce some points. One study looked at 3 groups ages
Initially, they found that compared to the 20-34 group the 60-74 burned 122 calories fewer per day and the 90+ group 422. So even at these worse case figures the numbers arent that drastic. However, when accounting for gender, muscle and fat they found that the 60-74 burned 24 calories fewer and the 90+ was 53 calories fewer. This data reinforces the point that continued activity as we get older is crucial. There is an obvious and evident decline however it can mitigate and even worse case it's not as much as people like to claim. The classic excuse for an older overweight person "wait till you're my age and your metabolism slows down" is simply not justified.
We finished this week's podcast by putting science aside and discussing the impacts that increasing age has on life/lifestyle.
As we get older more barriers are created. Climbing the job ladder increasing responsibility, starting a family, home & children. All these things can affect not only time available but things such as nutrition and recovery. (Lack of sleep, anyone?) All of this will, of course, be very individual and some will say you're just making more excuses for those who "can't be bothered" however some people react differently to different barriers and I know many who when given little sleep due to children will simply not have the energy to exercise.
I'd highly recommend listening to the last part of the podcast for more discussion on the impacts of life as we age as it's delivered in a much better way than I can do in written form!
Final point. Please don't use "old age" as an excuse for not exercising or an excuse for sudden weight gain. If you want to be independent going into your twilight years and just generally having a better quality of life then please keep up some form of physical activity and ensure you're getting sufficient protein in to aid in maintaining.
If you'd like more help and guidance going forward in your fitness journey then take a look at our fitness community Train Primal. We have a package there called Primal Life which is designed for anyone and everyone to get involved in and reap the benefits of an active lifestyle. You'll also have access to our exclusive Facebook group where you can tap into more information and guidance from ourselves. Hopefully, see you in the community soon!