Smart Fitness Approach in Mid-Life

Written by Paul Wolf

Message for mid-life athletes: assume you are below your potential and train on! 

Myth: In your forties, your athletic potential is shot.

Truth: We know that 40 somethings don't fare well in head-to-head competition against 20 somethings in any sport, save for golf and bowling. But that doesn't mean you can't post respectable performances or demolish your own records from years past.

Fifty years ago, experts said that it was physically impossible for a man to run a mile in less than four minutes. In 1954, a 25-year-old Briton did just that. What would those minds have thought of the 41-year-old Irishman, Eamonn Coghlan, who in 1994 set the world record for a 40-plus athlete by running a mile in 3:58.15?

"I knew a Masters runner would do it," says John Boyle of Masters News, a publication for serious older runners, when asked about Coghlan's record. "I think it's possible for a 50 year old to run [a mile in] under four minutes," he adds.

True there are some physiological realities to accept. Take a look at the records of the World Track and Field Championships. What you see is a gradual decline in athletic performance with each decade after 30. Then, between 70 and 80, there is a precipitous loss of athletic potential.

Before you begin training, remember these tips:

  • Give yourself more time to recover from competition.

  • Develop a systematic approach to training.

  • Consider working with a trainer.

  • Measure performance against others in your age group, and your own past performances.

No matter what your sport, place special emphasis on well-rounded fitness.

Join leagues and clubs in which your age won't crimp your style. The midlife athlete has a slightly less efficient heart and muscular system, and requires longer periods of recovery. But he or she still responds to training in the same way a younger athlete does in strength, flexibility and endurance.

In terms of basic health indicators like body fat, bone densities, cholesterol and blood pressure, amateur athletes don't age says Bob Wiswell, who heads the exercise physiology department of the University of Southern California.

If you're a midlife athlete, take a systematic approach to training and assume you are performing well below your potential.

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