Firstly I’d like to make it clear that in no way does your age dictate what you can or can’t achieve within the gym; Fact! I know a person in their 30’s who has spent absolutely no time exercising over the entirety of their lives. I also know a person in their 70’s who attends crossfit classes 3 times a week and can back squat their own body weight. Their age is irrelevant, the person in their 70’s outperforms the person in their 30’s across the board, this is down to training and exercise habits and not age. I would like to continue and consider that although age is not the foremost defining factor in the ability or desire to take part in physically demanding activities, it can play a significant role. Our bodies change from the day of conception until the day we die and to ignore this would be foolish.
There are a few key factors that determine our ability to take part in or are directly affected by physical activity.
The muscle strength of men and women peaks anywhere between 20 and 30 years of age. Assuming you’re not suffering from any serious injuries or debilitating illness, you can maintain this strength for another 20 years or more. At around 40, if you engage in little to no resistance training your muscular performance gradually declines at a rate of approximately five percent every ten years. While inactive men and women will generally experience a loss of 30 to 40 percent of their functional strength throughout the later stages of life, a consistent and well-structured resistance training plan can greatly combat the effects of sarcopenia (muscle atrophy/wastage). A recent study even found that in some cases it could be prevented altogether.
Bone Density tends to peak at around 30 to 35 years of age in both men and women however the skeletal bone mass of women is almost complete by the age of 20 and they will experience very little change in this until the onset of the menopause. Women then typically lose a large degree of bone mass after the menopause while men generally begin losing bone mass after the age of 65. If you acquire high bone mass as a young adult, you’re more able to sustain that bone mass until late in life. If you don’t consume enough calcium and engage in physical activity as a child, you may not gain peak bone mass upon reaching adulthood leading to an increased risk of osteoporosis and breaks in later life.
Metabolism and Heart Rate
A large quantity of our daily energy/calorie usage is dictated by our resting metabolic rate or basal metabolism. By the age of 25 both men and women will have hit peak metabolism. There are varied studies reporting varied rates of reduction in metabolism, these range from as little as 10% reduction between the ages of 25 and 65 up to a loss of 2% per year equating to 40% between the age range. Metabolism is affected by gender, age, weight, diet and exercise habits which will no doubt account for the vast spread of results in these studies. Put simply, the loss of muscle mass is the main contributor to a reduced metabolism and as we age we lose muscle mass and gain body fat. Growing older also leads to our maximal heart rate decreasing due to a lower level of response to catecholamines, or hormones released into your bloodstream during periods of emotional or physical stress (exercise).
On average, between the ages of 20 and 65 we will lose around three to four inches of flexibility in our hips, lower back and hamstrings. A good way to measure this is through 1 of the several sit and reach test variations which can be found by following the link.
A simple explanation as to why we lose flexibility as we get older is due to a decrease in tendon strength in our body’s leading to tendons become more rigid and our muscles and joints having difficulty moving. Collagen is the main component of both ligaments and tendons and consists of fibrils that begin to develop cross-linkages over time, contributing to reduced elasticity of ligaments, joint capsules and tendons.
Having looked at some of the key factors above, are we now better placed to formulate different training patterns at different stages of our lives? My personal view is that a well-balanced training programme containing a mixture of weight lifting, body weight training, mobility work and cardio will greatly increase your ability to perform at any stage of life. Whether you are 20 and looking to increase athletic performance in your chosen sport or 75 and looking to retain that ability to play for as long as possible, a varied gym programme makes a lot of sense. Balance, consistency and variety is the key to longevity both in and out of the gym.