The passage of time is one of the few certainties in life. As we age, the physical and psychological relationship with physical activity changes. One of the joys of an endurance sport like running is that you can continue to practice it and be able to improve your performance even when your competitive career in other sports would have been over for some time.
There are obviously inevitable consequences that come with aging. But the changes due to age and the speed with which they affect performance depend only in part on genetic factors: they can be slowed down or accelerated by the type of training practiced and lifestyle.
As years go by, the maximum heart rate decreases due to the reduction in the efficiency of heart muscle cells. This affects the ability to carry and use oxygen, and to this must be added a reduction in capillary density (the small blood vessels that carry oxygen to the muscles). Consequentially, we can expect that from the age of forty onwards, our VO2 max will decrease by about 10% per decade. Muscles have less capacity to store glycogen, and mitochondria – the “power plants” that produce energy in our cells – become less efficient. These changes reduce the ability to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the compound that provides the energy we need to run.
Studies then suggest that Older runners are more prone to musculoskeletal injuries. One of the causes can be found in hormonal changes, such as a reduction in testosterone, which results in a decrease of up to 30% in lean muscle mass by the time you reach the age of seventy. Other changes such as menopause can impact the body, for example causing a reduction in the density of minerals in the bones. Top speed also begins to decline in the early twenties, in part because the neuromuscular system is affected by age and is no longer able to activate muscles as efficiently as before.
New opportunities for new ages
However, there is no need to break down. Despite the changes, running is a wonderful sport that keeps us active, healthy, social and competitive as we age. As an endurance discipline it relies more on slow twitch muscle fibers, and these atrophy at a slower rate than fast twitch fibers, which we rely on.
to get the power required in other sports. Also, as a runner we can stay competitive by competing for our age category in the Masters races.
For older athletes who have been running for a long time, the biggest risk comes from lack of flexibility – that is, from continuing to train as they did in their 20s. We must be aware that recovery and adaptation are altered by biological processes, so they must be rebalanced. The first step, therefore, is to recognize the change, accept it and work to adapt to it.
A good way to approach training and competitions at this stage of life is to remember that the margin for error is reduced. At 20, we could have risked training hard for several days in a row, but if we do it now, as well as if we resume running too soon after an injury or illness, or increase the amount or intensity of training too quickly. , we can be sure that our body will present us with a hefty bill.