Thanks to advances in training and recovery methodologies and an improvement in wearable performance technology, athletic abilities are being maintained long beyond previously-accepted norms.

At an elite level, sporting careers are extending and medals are still being won by ‘older’ athletes. This is the same for the recreational athlete, where a high level of physical output is being maintained well into later life. Even the non-competitive exercisers are maintaining active lifestyles. Research supports the use of exercise as a medicinal tool [1], as long as it is done safely.

Whilst we can’t train and perform like younger people forever, we need to learn lessons about how to train effectively and recover properly as we age. If high intensity training and competition is going to extend into later life, what can we learn about staying safe and enhancing the benefits of exercise as we age?

As always we’re going to look at the science and make recommendations based on research,
not opinion.

Time to read: 7 minutes

Level: Intermediate

Key Points:

  • Research about Reduction in Physical Capabilities
  • Training considerations for older athlete
  • How KYMIRA can aid the Aging Athlete

Thanks to advances in training, recovery and wearable performance technology,
athletic abilities are being maintained long beyond previously-accepted norms. In this article we take a look at ways of dramatically slowing down physical decline.

What Research tell us about Reduction in Physical Capabilities

The physical decline is varied from person to person, so bear in mind any suggestions we make are based on broad-strokes research, not a nuanced analysis of an individual. What we do know is that muscle strength and power [2] is likely to decline more rapidly than flexibility and endurance. Lower limb strength appears to decline noticeably quicker than upper limbs too. Reduction in flexibility is slower and not strongly associated with a
loss of functional performance.

As mentioned in the paragraph, flexibility is less of a concern in late middle age according to this study [3]. The measured rate of flexibility decline isn’t significant until around 70 years of age, when research showed it began to accelerate. Flexibility wasn’t associated with a reduction of functional ability either, probably because activities such as cycling, running and basic weight training don’t require a significant degree of flexibility in order to perform the movements.

The VO2 Max decline is significant without exercise, with research suggesting that the decline is around 10% per decade post 60 [4], but of course these declines start earlier than that – they just accelerate beyond that point.

We also know that regular exercise has a significant impact on maintaining the physical capabilities [5] of a person. This is a point that is repeatedly made across a number of studies with large participant numbers [6], suggesting it’s less likely to be an anomaly. The relationship between exercise and the maintenance of physical capabilities is simply too
strong to ignore.

Training Considerations for the Older Athlete

Based on the research, training as we get older should be focussed on maintaining strength (in particular lower limbs) and cardiovascular capabilities, with less concern about flexibility at this point. Strength training needs to essentially bias weight over volume and cardiovascular training needs to bias improving VO2 Max over improving outright duration.

We know that improvements in strength can be made regardless of age [7], with research concluding that improvement is based on a dose-response relationship - the higher the intensity, the greater the results. This contradicts long-held beliefs that as a person ages they should exercise at a lower intensity. Of course this is dependent on pre-existing health conditions, so always consult a doctor and undergo physical assessment before embarking on a new, high intensity exercise programme.

From a cardiovascular perspective, training recommendations for the older exerciser are largely dependent on the exercise history and the desired outcomes of the training. There certainly is room for high intensity exercise [8], be it on a bike, sprinting etc as long as there are no prior cardiovascular conditions. This approach should be combined with lower intensity work to offset the potential issues with age-associated arterial stiffness.

The reality is that age isn’t a health issue in of itself, but there are age-associated conditions
that exercisers have to be aware of and consider when training.

Here's where KYMIRA come in...

The performance and recovery benefits of the infrared technology in every KYMIRA item are particularly helpful when it comes to the older exercisers.

We know that infrared is proven to improve blood flow, tissue oxygenation and reduce injury risk during use. These aren’t insignificant benefits either – when the goal of exercise is to improve functional fitness and maintain physical capacity, the first rule should always be ‘do no harm’.

By making sure you are exercising in kit that not only helps boost performance, but also reduces the likelihood of injury or pain is fundamental, especially as you age. Enhancing recovery between sessions is also important because you won’t be able to recover as quickly as you did in your youth. Stacking the odds in your favour by wearing KYMIRA clothing for both exercise and recovery will help you significantly.

You can’t prevent the physical decline, but you can certainly slow it down.

July 13, 2020 — Stephen Hoyles
Tags: aging

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