Coaching Research Minute – Aging and Fitness

Is it important to “take it easy” as we get older? Are older runners/cyclists/swimmers destined for a rapid decline in performance as they age? As someone who’s been through a wellness coach certification, should you count on a big physical slide among your 40 or 50+ clients? Granted – things change as we age. Recovery takes more time, maximum heart rate declines, testosterone levels are reduced. However, the main reason why the drop-off occurs in the general population is we stop doing those things that produce the desired outcomes, such as strength training, plyometrics and speed training sessions.

For example, 10K finish times the general population does demonstrate a significant difference from age 40 to 50 to 60. However, if you look at the top athletes in these age groups (vs. the average), the story is often very different. Among those who are willing to continue with the serious components of training, their times slow much much less than the average. Our bodies respond and adapt to what we give them. There are clearly limitations, but far too often we don’t put in the work as we get older and then chalk up the slower times to age instead of lack of appropriate training.

Here’s a fascinating study that looked at elite distance runners over a 45 year time frame. Did they change over time? Of course. But as you’ll see in the conclusion, we’re encouraged to up the expectations over time, not lower them. Here’s the link if you’d like to take a look: Elite Distance Runners Study