Aging in Sports and Exercise

Aging in Sports and Exercise

Is Aging associated with increased inflammatory activity?

Aging leads to a progressive decrease of muscle strength and flexibility. The risk of a cardiac emergency is increased substantially when a person is actually exercising.  Some physicians have thus argued that older people who intend to exercise should undergo exhaustive preliminary screening, including an exercise electrocardiogram.  This may be desirable if the person intends to embark on very strenuous competitive training, but it is undesirable if an older individual merely wishes to make a small increase in their habitual daily physical activity.

Young adulthood typically covers the period from 20-35 years of age, when both biological function and physical performance reach their peak. During young middle-age (35-45 years), physical activity usually wanes, with a 5-10 kg accumulation of body fat.  Active pursuits may be shared with a growing family, but it becomes less important to impress either an employer or persons of the opposite sex with physical appearance and performance.  During later middle-age (45-65 years), women reach the menopause, and men also substantially reduce their output  of sex hormones.  Career opportunities have commonly peaked, and a larger disposable income often allows energy demanding domestic tasks to be deputed to service contractors.  The decline in physical condition thus continues and may accelerate.

In early old age (65-75 years), there may be a modest increase of physical activity, in an attempt to fill free time resulting from retirement.  By middle old age (75-85 years), many people have developed some physical disability, and in the final stage (very old age, over 85 years) they become totally dependent.  A typical expectation is of 8-10 years of partial disability, and a year of total dependency.

There are nevertheless wide inter-individual differences in functional status at any given chronological age.  In terms of maximal oxygen intake, muscle strength and flexibility, the best preserved 65-year-old may out-perform a sedentary 25-year-old.  Whether assessing fitness for continuing employment or recommending an exercise prescription, decisions should thus be based upon biological rather than chronological age.  Unfortunately, there is no very satisfactory method of determining a person’s biological age, because the different biological systems age at differing rates.  Attempts to combine such measurements as graying of the hair, loss of skin elasticity, a decrease of vital capacity, and a decrease of reaction time into a global index seem to provide no more than a complicated and inaccurate method of assessing the individual’s chronological age.