Carroll County Times
Carroll County

For the Fun of Fit: Aging athletes can fight back

There is no fountain of youth, and it's impossible to turn back the hands of time, but there are things you can do to fight the good fight and beat back the aging curve. According to, merely reducing the rate at which the years affect our speed is a victory - it's the runner's version of aging gracefully.

While many facets of aging work against our speed and performance goals, the primary culprits are declining aerobic horsepower, flexibility, muscle power, and recovery/healing rates.

Aerobic horsepower, classically measured by VO2 Max, or the maximum rate of oxygen usage per unit of body weight, is also affected by changes in the heart and how adept the muscles are at using oxygen. The easiest way to combat aerobic decline is simple: keep running. Richard Brown, a 71-year-old exercise physiologist from Oregon, recommends 60 minutes of moderate-paced aerobic work two or three times each week. Others, including Portland-based coach Bob Williams, believe speed work and regular racing is essential.

Flexibility, and the loss of range of motion, is a problem that intensifies with age and a sedentary lifestyle. As tendon elasticity diminishes, a runner's stride and propulsion is negatively affected.

"Once the muscles start to get tight, you're limiting your power base," Williams notes. "You're not going to be able to move as smooth and efficiently."

The easiest way to maintain flexibility and muscle elasticity is to stretch. To get blood flowing through the connective tissues, incorporate pre-workout dynamic stretching and post-workout static stretching into your routine. The use of foam rollers, regular massage and cross-training also helps to retain flexibility and range of motion. "The foam roller seems to be the primary tool I've found that keeps competitive runners healthy," Williams says.

Declining muscle mass is another side effect of aging. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, muscle strength and mass begin decreasing at age 40, with the process speeding up after age 65 or 70, and the rate of loss occurring fastest in the lower body and with fast-twitch fibers.

Scott Trappe, director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., blames changing lifestyles as the cause of decreasing muscle mass. Trappe notes that, as people age, they tend to stop doing high intensity activities that require fast-twitch fibers, which causes the fibers to atrophy until they permanently disappear. Vigorous weight training is the best way to combat the loss of muscle composition.

As you age, tissue repair and replacement occurs less rapidly so, while workout intensity should remain constant, the frequency of hard workouts should be reduced to allow for more recovery time. While you cannot actually slow the aging process, you can accelerate it if you push too hard too often.

According to, aging, like injuries, is one of those things most of us prefer to deny but, eventually, we're all going to become masters athletes, or not be athletes at all. Simply modifying your current workout routine will go a long way to keep you racing well into your golden years.