At some point, your strength, power and muscle mass will abandon you. But when will it happen and what can do you to slow the backwards slide?
According to research, aging results in decreases in muscle power faster than decreases in endurance in both men and women. Endurance performance in men peaks during their 20's and declines by about four percent by the age of 55. Endurance often peaks in women during their 30's. In both men and women, strength and power show a much faster and earlier decline.
We asked experts around the country if there's an age when most people see their performance drop. Here's what they said:
Paul Robbins, Metabolic Specialist, Athletes' Performance: "If you work out, there is very little decline. Depending on your lifestyle, there can be none until the late 30's, and even then, very little. On the other hand, look at college students who don't take care of themselves. There are many people in their 20's in much worse shape than that of some who are in their 40's or 50's. The bottom line is that it comes down to lifestyle plus genetics. Of course there is a difference between a 20-year-old and a 70-year-old, but over that 50-year period, the decline is very slow among those who continue to participate in strength and cardiovascular training. If I had to give a number between those two extremes, it would probably be around 40. How fast the decline occurs is based on lifestyle."
Steve Tamborra, Strength and Conditioning Coach at Georgia Tech: "I think it has more to do with lifestyle than age. I'm 35 and I feel it is easier to get stronger at this age, but my recovery is slower—probably because I'm busier at home with a child and things to do around the house. My sleep is not as restful—or enough. Flexibility is still good. I'm not sure about speed, but I believe those in the athletic population tend to stay in better physical shape because of constant activity or perhaps better genetics."
John Yandell, Editor and Founder, Tennisplayer.net: "Below the world class level of tennis players, if you train hard off the court you can probably stay virtually at the same level until 45 or even 50 or further. What I observe is that if players get away from the game and stop strengthening and conditioning, it is very difficult and takes a long time to get back. The other factor is injuries. What you felt as a twinge or minor problem at age 35 or so suddenly blows up and becomes an injury that keeps you off the court for months. We all say that tennis is a sport for life, which is true, but if you want to play at all seriously, say at the 4.5 level or up, or in seniors tournaments, most people are going to need to cut down on actual court time and spend a lot of time in the gym, stretching, and also possibly getting massage or other body work. At the 3.0 or 3.5 level or if you play all doubles, this is probably less critical."
Nick Winkleman, Performance Specialist, Athletes' Performance: "While research has shown that there will be a decrease in organ function and lean muscle mass as we age, there is no definitive timeline for these things to happen. Independent of these adaptations due to aging, there is strong evidence for positive neuromuscular changes with the appropriate training. Through training, older athletes will see an increase in strength and power, but no change in lean muscle mass. Aging can be looked at as an adaptation to inactivity and not as an inevitable change."
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Abbott Nutrition strongly recommends that you consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program and perform exercises under the supervision of a certified fitness trainer or conditioning coach. The effect of any specific exercise on a medical condition should be determined by your health care professional. The suggestions here are in no way intended to substitute for medical advice.