In a book, researcher Romuald Lepers explains that continuing to train and compete slows down performance decline and aging. It gives valuable advice to adapt the training.
10,000+ steps. Did you know that the current marathon record for 70-74-year-olds (held by Canadian Ed Whitlock in 2h 54 min 48 s and, since May 8, 2022, by Dutch Jo Schoonbroodt in 2 h 54 min 19 s) is less than the time of the winner of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 (the Greek Spyridon Louis, who ran the 42.195 kilometers in 2 h 58 min)? Did you imagine that we could still improve our performance after 100 years, as demonstrated by cyclist Robert Marchand?
At a time when master athletes (aged over 40) often represent more than half of the participants in endurance events such as marathons, trails, and triathlons, teacher-researcher Romuald Lepers (Inserm, University of Burgundy, Dijon) had the good idea of devoting a well-documented book to them Athlete master, training and performing at 40, 50 and over… (Outdoor-editions, 164 p., 25 euros).
For the researcher, himself a triathlete, who has been studying for fifteen years the performance of those who were previously called veterans, it is obvious: master athletes are a model of successful aging. The decline in physical capacity begins around 35-40 years old and accelerates after 75 years old, but the pursuit of regular training and competitive practice can slow it down.
This is the case for maximal oxygen consumption or VO2max, the main index of performance in endurance. “From the age of 40, it decreases by approximately 10% every ten years, but the decrease can be limited to 7% per decade with regular training”, emphasizes Romuald Lepers. This news is all the more gratifying since VO2max also makes it possible to predict cardiovascular mortality, all causes combined.
Maintenance of VO2max and muscle mass
The observations of the French researcher and another team of elite master athletes – that is to say holders of world records – allow us to understand why these athletes remain very efficient with age. “By studying the physiological characteristics of two marathon runners, we have shown that they maintain a speed corresponding to 90-94% of their VO2max during the event, which is exceptional in terms of endurance. The younger elites are around 85%, ” explains Romuald Lepers.
Another good news, is for athletes who remain so throughout their lives, training can slow muscle aging, limiting the loss of muscle strength to 5% per decade, compared to 8% in the general population.