Are the superfit staying that way for longer than ever?

A leading physiologist has supported the claim that athletes can stay fitter and healthier for longer now than ever before.

Traditionally, elite sportsmen and women have tended to peak in their professional careers in their mid to late 20’s, but recent trends have seen experienced athletes maintain their success well into their 30’s.

Roger Federer and Tiger Woods are two examples, winning major tennis and golf championships in their late 30’s and early 40’s respectively.

Associate Professor of Exercise Physiology at Staffordshire University, Jacky Forsyth, who contributed to a study into the ages and trends of modern fitness called ‘Finishing on a High', says the data shows that medical advances in training and healthcare have led to people playing sports for longer at all levels.

‘Most research suggests that performance decline occurs around the age of 50 for both men and women’ says Forsyth; ‘Already, the age for being at peak is getting older – maybe this is more to do with a societal change than a technological/treatment change.

‘There have been medical advancements and we have a better understanding of how the body responds and adapts to training. There is also the idea that, for endurance sports, an older age is preferable since, with ageing, the body responds more to endurance training in terms of muscle tissue and cellular adaptation.’

One trend that is constant in sport is that the average age of female champions across golf, tennis, athletics and cycling is much younger than that of men in the same sports.

Male Grand Tour winners peak at around 29 years old, while women enjoy success at around 27, while in gold they peak at 31 and 26 respectively and 26 and 25 in tennis.


Forsyth claims this is down to biological factors; ‘It is probably a mixture of things. For example, for women, in the past, it was thought that an athletic career termination would be inevitable if a woman wished to start a family.’

‘Females tend to drop out of sport around adolescence if there are body changes that get in the way of achieving what they want to achieve, so in sports like golf, there may be less of an influence of pubertal changes that disrupt playing.’

In tennis there have been three female teenage major champions since the turn of the century compared to just one in the men’s game, while 21 players aged 21 and under have tasted success, compared to 10 in the men’s game, but tend to have far less success later in their careers apart from Serena Williams.

'Finishing on a High' breaks down six individual sports by age to consider which players have defied their age to enjoy success beyond the average age, and picks out six potential stars of the future based on their profile.


LISTEN UP!
Click HERE to listen to sports scientist and martial arts instructor, Luke Del Vecchio, talking to The Fitness Industry Podcast about the increasing participation in organised sport by the over 35’s, and why older athletes have higher protein requirements.