Training Advice to Help Older Athletes Maintain Fitness

Tips for Older Athletes
Tips for Older Athletes. CaiaImageCLOSED/Getty Images

Older athletes have special exercise considerations due to the effects of aging on muscle and joint tissue, cardiovascular fitness, and other physical parameters. Use these training tactics to build and maintain your fitness as well as your ability to compete as you desire.

Maintaining Speed as You Get Older

Slowing down seems synonymous with getting older, but you don't have to simply accept it. You can slow age-related declines in athletic speed with these training methods.

Maintaining Endurance as You Age

The common fitness declines that occur with aging include changes in body composition with increased body fat and decreased muscle mass, loss of height (sometimes due to osteoporosis), diminished cardiorespiratory capacity and muscle atrophy. Despite these losses, there are examples of extraordinary physical feats of older athletes.

Older athletes are often able to compete in endurance exercise because they often have higher proportions of slow twitch fibers.

Additionally, it's estimated the much of the physical declines associated with aging aren't inevitable but is due to a detraining or deconditioning effect that comes from a decrease in exercise levels, frequency or intensity. Research has found that seniors make quick improvements when they start to exercise.

Nutrition for the Older Athlete

Proper nutrition in older athletes may also protect the joints from age-related degeneration. Aging causes the joints to become less flexible and lose a range of motion. These limitations can compromise physical abilities. The following nutrients are of particular importance for older athletes:

  • Vitamin C for collagen formation.
  • Omega-3 oils (from nuts, seeds, oily fish and wheat germ) for anti-inflammatory effects.
  • Sulphur-containing amino acids (from some vegetables, meat, poultry, fish and dairy products) for joint cartilage health.
  • Bioflavonoids (from all fruit and vegetables, and buckwheat) for anti-inflammatory effects and improved local circulation.
  • Antioxidants (selenium and vitamin E) for protection against the damaging free radicals that proliferate in the body with age.
  • Some supplements may also be helpful but check with your doctor before trying any.

Decreased Power

Aging results in decreases in muscle power faster than it causes decreases in endurance in both men and women.

While endurance performance in men peaks in their 20s and declines by about 4% by age 55, in women endurance often peaks in their 30s.

In both men and women, strength and power show a much faster and earlier decline.

Memory, Age, and Fitness

There is growing evidence that suggests that seniors who exercise not only reduce the physical declines of age but also protect their brains (particularly memory) from age-related decline. Physical fitness is linked with a reduced rate of memory decline in middle age.

It's Never Too Late to Start Exercising

There is growing evidence that many of the physical and mental declines common with aging can be reduced with appropriate fitness and nutrition programs, and it's not too late to start improving fitness, no matter what your age.

By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.