Rehabilitation medicine continues to push the envelope – and win! Individuals with sufficient drive to succeed, are doing so in greater numbers – and in later years. Although there are physiologic changes associated with aging, that impact performance: skeletal muscle hypertrophy, conduction velocity of nerves, and maximum heart rate (among others), we do have means to combat the effects and rates of impact on performance.
Five main factors are relevant to the sustained and ever-increasing window of performance for aging athletes:
- The science of human performance, specifically exercise science, has helped us to understand and to maximize both training techniques and schedules. Higher intensity training can now be more safely engaged than previously considered.
- The ubiquitous nature of gyms, programs, and facilities has increased interest and access to equipment, reaching more athletes than ever.
- Social media. Need I say more? One person in their 40’s hearing a story about another aging athlete winning a gold medal, or qualifying for the Boston Marathon, or winning a local race – can be all the motivation needed.
- The prevalence of races. It seems that most every small town, no matter the size, hosts a 5k, a run-walk or triathlon, giving interested athletes a goal-directed focus.
- Nutritional science, the rehabilitation of injuries, as well as both preventative and recovery strategies – are all becoming more sophisticated than in recent years.
Some of the most applicable advancements that aging athletes can utilize include: high intensity interval training (HIIT); the specific dosages for optimal recovery using cold water immersion; the use of strength training in endurance athletics. Another advancement that is less-readily available, yet significant, includes the application of: underwater treadmill training – a favorite of the long distance runners and a mainstay of project Oregon on the Nike campus in Beaverton. http://northwestrehab.com/virtual-tour/virtual-tour3220/
There is no fountain of youth that we know of. Limits remain in skeletal muscle development – leaving us with a reduced access to power; in nerve conduction velocity – leaving us with slower reaction times; and in maximal heart rate – leaving us with a reduced workload capacity per minute…it appears as though we are not at the “human limits” in age and performance, just yet.