What comes to mind when you think of aging? If you envision frailty and loss of function, that’s understandable if you have been looking around at people you know. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, only 5% of adults over 65 are fit and highly active. 65% are functioning independently but are experiencing physical decline due to low levels of physical activity. The other 30% are frail and dependent on assistance for activities of daily living. No wonder most people are expecting to weaken and suffer as they age.
Yet in recent years more seniors are engaging in vigorous physical activity for recreation and competition. As more people continue to, or begin to be, active as they age, we are learning that we underestimated the limits of human performance. With greater participation as well as improvements in training and recovery protocols, records and averages in performance among athletes in their 40’s to their 100’s are going up steadily.
There is much more to learn about why and how some seniors are able to remain strong and vital over the passing decades. Genetics surely plays a role, but not as big as some might think. Exercise seems to be the unavoidable conclusion that scientists keep returning to. We are learning that at any age, it is possible to increase strength, flexibility, and endurance and to stave off age related decline dramatically.
It turns out that when you think of aging as leading to frailty and disability, you may be confusing aging with low fitness.
Most people aren’t going to perform at the elite level. I, for one, don’t expect to be competing in Ironman triathlons like 85-year-old Iromu Inada or 88-year-old Madonna Buder. That’s a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.22-mile (42.20 km) run, raced in that order. I don’t think I will be a track and field star in my 90’s, like Olga Kotelko. I run, but not like 71-year-old Gene Dykes who ran a 2:54 marathon, at the blistering pace of 6:39 minutes per mile. And I certainly hope I won’t have to knock out an intruder in my house like 82-year-old power lifter Willie Murphy.
However, if human potential allows some people to excel and to keep getting stronger late in life, like Robert Marchand who took up velodrome competitive cycling in his 100’s, it suggests that the rest of us can achieve more than we thought. Science seems to agree. Barring catastrophic illnesses and accidents, we should expect to be able to carry groceries, plant flowers, walk through a museum, or stroll on the beach, well into our advanced years. In addition, being fit provides benefits beyond being able to stand up from a chair without help or to get on the ground with the grandkids. Physical activity impacts quality of life on many levels because it has been shown to improve immunity, mood, digestion, and cognition.
One’s perception of his or her ability to change or to perform specific behaviors is called self-efficacy. It is a necessary component of success no matter what your goals are. If we want to be among those who age with vitality, let’s discard old notions of aging in favor of a new one where we can influence our life through our actions and continue to participate fully in the activities of our choosing. If you think you are “just getting old” and accept decline as a given, why take action? You need to have a sense of what is possible in order to take the time and effort to be active. The astonishing performance of elite athletes is an inspiration and encouragement for the rest of us to discover our own potential.
In the next post, I will get into some specifics about how to stay strong and fit over the years. Being savvy about how to train and how to recover is key. Aston Kinetics® has much to offer in this quest by providing powerful tools to improve biomechanics and movement efficiency, release restrictions in our tissues, recover from injuries, and help with recovery at the cellular level.