Is age a good excuse?

Ok, it’s not completely true. Age is a decent excuse but not to the extent it’s often used. When people pass 40 (later this year for me…damn) age becomes an excuse either for worse athletic performance or increased weight. People say: “I’m getting on and I can’t do what I used to”, or “Yes, but I’m over 40 now so I can’t help the weight.” If you’re still young save this e-mail for awhile or read it now because it’s interesting.

For sure there is an age when you are at your peak. For endurance sport this is probably in your late 20’s to early 30’s. Some even compete at the highest level into their 40’s. Chris Horner won the Vuelta a España (Spains Tour de France and one of the three Grand Tours) in 2013 at almost 42 years old. Constantina Dita Tomescu won the woman’s marathon at The Beijing Olympics in 2008 aged 38. For sure they’re exceptions because while you can keep a high level as you age you’re a bit of a freak doing what they did.

What happens to our bodies as we age? The simplest way to explain is this: VO2 max is a measure of how well our bodies use oxygen. How much oxygen can your lungs take in, how well can your blood transport it and how efficiently can your muscles use it. There are other factors but in general the higher your VO2 max the better you’ll be at endurance sport.

After 30 your VO2 max can start to decline. While it’s difficult to increase VO2 max much through legal methods you can slow the decline through high intensity training and in fact some studies show almost stop it. It seems that lots of long slow exercise doesn’t help lessen VO2 max decline much.

So we need to take a different approach to exercise as we age. All things being equal we’ll never be as good as our younger selves but for sure we can still look and feel good and produce pretty damn good endurance performances. We have to train smarter and be aware that our bodies are different. Fewer training sessions, less hours and more quality including some high intensity. Cross training including weight lifting and stretching can help maintain muscle mass and flexibility and prevent injury from too much endurance training. Take rest days where you do something different, so cycle or swim instead of run. And while you should always get plenty of sleep it becomes even more important for older athletes.

One of the biggest challenges as we age is motivation. This also plays a part in why older endurance athletes don’t perform as well…they’ve had enough of the effort and energy required to maintain a high level. This isn’t only about athletic performance. The same applies if your goal is to keep healthy and in shape. You can’t and probably don’t want to do the same you used to, but you can be pretty fit and healthy and in better shape than a bunch of youngsters.

Stay fit and healthy