Thirsty (for knowledge) Thursday: How Being a Masters Athlete Can Affect Your Lifespan

>> Thursday, March 02, 2017

People have been sharing this article about "Lifespan vs 'Health'-span." It doesn't seem super scientific, but it still seems a step or 2 better than an "fake news."

Here are some parts I want to highlight:

Different parts of our body and brain mature at different rates, so it’s very difficult to say what human ‘peak age’ might be. However, it’s clear that the first phase of life is dominated by growth, while declines become more apparent in the second half.

Many of us assume that the ageing process is a fixed process, that we reach our peak then begin an irreversible decline. This hasn’t stopped an entire industry from trying to make an impact, though.

It seems that many of us would prefer to ‘die young as late as possible’, but while we’re living longer, we’re living ‘sicker’.

Here's why they started looking at athletes for this study:

Sport as a laboratory

Studying ageing is a challenge, because as we get older, the number of confounding factors in observational research increases. The longer we live, the more choices we make, the wider variety of environments, stimuli and stresses we are exposed to. This can distort results, making it difficult to discern the difference between natural declines in health and performance from deteriorations that occur as a result of lifestyle factors and poor choices.

In contrast, the world of sport represents a fascinating ‘laboratory’ for studying human potential in the absence of sedentary behaviour. In athletic competition, cardiovascular, respiratory, neuromuscular as well as cognitive systems must all work well individually, and as a system, making it one of the best testing grounds for how our body and brain should work together at their best.

Physical inactivity is a primary cause of many of the chronic ailments which afflict an ageing population, but the high levels of physical activity among masters athletes mean that they should be free from many of the negative effects of sedentary behaviour. Any declines in athletic performance mirror the changes in the body and mind that occur as we age, rather than being a result of inactivity or other intervening lifestyle factors.

They go on to say...

The performance changes in masters sporting events display a ‘curvilenear,’ rather than linear, pattern. Instead of reaching a peak in their 30s, before experiencing an inexorable and linear decline, masters athletes retain close-to-peak performance for much longer, experiencing a gentler decline, followed by a rapid drop-off in the latter part of life.

The findings among masters athletes reflect the aim that many of us have: maximise ‘healthspan’ by reaching a peak, then maintaining our health, physical and cognitive capacities for as long as we can, compressing ill health into as short a period as possible.

So if you hear people say things like "sure, you work out a lot, but studies show you only gain a few extras years of life," you can quote this study and say "yes, but my plan as an older athlete is to maintain health, physical and cognitive capacities for as long as I can and lose my fitness at a slower rate - my final years will be full of more vigor than yours!" Just look at the difference in "health" of an 80-year-old who's "average" vs a "masters athlete" in that graph above. That's a BIG gap.

For more "Thirsty Thursday" posts that highlight workouts, body science, and all kinds of interesting information, CLICK HERE. Back with some "Friday Funnies" tomorrow.


SteveQ 11:50 AM, March 02, 2017  

The biggest problem with this is that older athletes are a self-limiting group. If your health declines, you stop competing, so each year you eliminate the least healthy part of the group.

Of course, my competitive ability took a steep decline at age 25, so I have to justify my still competing...

Steve Stenzel 9:01 PM, March 02, 2017  

That's a really good point, SteveQ.

Keith 9:01 PM, March 02, 2017  

I suspect they picked Masters athletes because they're fairly easy to find and track. Then there's all the rest of us, out there doing our thing. It seems to me that the more regularly you train, the closer to the Masters line you'll be. I also suspect it doesn't really take all that much exercise to move significantly from the average population line.

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