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Racing as a Master

become a Master of Racing well into your 60s and 70s!

by Cal Zaryski

Old Father Time, lookout, the Masters are coming! I have witnessed this many times. Too often I have been passed in a race by what appears to be an older athlete, but yet performing at a youthful level. How do they maintain such an elite performance well into their 40, 50 and 60s?

Many exercise scientists are beginning to realize that sometimes older is better, and innovative new research is showing that much of the decline in performance which accompanies aging is actually the result of disuse – not the aging process itself. In fact, the latest investigations suggest that athletes who continue training vigorously often do not experience significant loss in performance until they reach their middle 40s or early 50s – or later. In addition, the eventual downturns are usually far smaller than expected.

It seems that a continued high level of training can significantly reduce the magnitude of aerobic power and capacity decline that inevitably occurs with aging. Previously, a 9-10% decline in maximal oxygen consumption per decade has been reported from studies of untrained healthy men. However, other studies have suggest that the rate of decline is halved (5% per decade and in some cases even less) in athletes who maintain a very high level of training volume and intensity. Continued training can maintain stroke volume at high levels, as well as skeletal muscle endurance capacity and even economy. Maximal heart rate decline with age, on the other hand, is not altered by activity level.

While age is a relative thing — the 60-year-old tennis player may be in better shape than the 20-year-old couch potato — time takes its toll on the human body in terms of physical changes. After age 30, humans start losing muscle mass and after age 40, bone mass declines. Tendons, which connect muscles to bone, and ligaments, which hold joints together, become less elastic and are easier to tear. These changes and others affect our ability to enjoy sports as we grow older, not to mention performing at a high level.

Here are some tips that should keep you healthy on your quest to compete with our youth and maintaining a high level of functionality:

1) As the decades slip by, add one more day of rest to your program. One day of rest in your 20s and 30s, 2 days of rest in your 40s until you are exercising every other day. These extra days off allow for the soft tissue to recovery and strengthen. This is most true if you are a runner.

2) Cross train to avoid over use injuries. Try swimming, biking, skiing, snowshoeing, deep water running, they all maintain your fitness and add variety to your active life.

3) To maintain a high level of fitness, vigorous exercise (heart rates greater than 85% of maximum) must be done once or twice per week. I suggest doing one session that is lower body (running or biking) and one session that is upper body (swimming). This will keep those fast twitch muscle fibers alert and ready to perform on race day.

4) Warm up well for at least 15 minutes before a strenuous workout. Allow the body to naturally accommodate the exercise. As we age, this process takes a little longer.

5) Always cool down after an exercise session. Allow the body to return to near normal functioning before hitting the showers. A good cool down can help diminish muscle soreness. Also try using cold water therapy after exercise to decrease inflammation and enhance recovery.

6) Functional range of motion tends to decrease with age, so stretch more frequently once your tissue is warm. Make sure that your stretching is not too aggressive. Stretch to mild discomfort then back off and hold for at least 30 seconds. Sometimes stretching can actually cause injury if done incorrectly. Try scheduling yoga into your program.

7) Incorporate strength training to your program. It is very important to maintain your lean body mass. In your 20s and 30s, weight training should comprise of 20% of your fitness program. As you age, weight training should become more of a focus. Eventually in your 60’s an 70’s 50% of your program should be weight training with the other half aerobic exercise.

8. Avoid increases in body fat. As your metabolic rate slows due to aging and without vigorous exercise, the body begins to store excess calories as fat which eventually will impair your performance. Remain lean and eat well.

9) Eat lots of vegetables and fruits. These foods help keep the acidity of your blood low which in turn minimizes the loss of nitrogen and calcium. This loss is related to losing your lean body mass and bone density. Focus on spinach and grapes while avoiding foods that increase your blood acidity such as parmesan cheese.

10) Take antioxidants to help neutralize free radicals that impair mitochondria functioning. The mitochondria are small organelles in the muscle where aerobic metabolism takes place. I suggest taking 1000mg of vitamin C and 400-800 IU of vitamin E daily.

We are all aging. Age fast, age slow, it is up to you. However, slowing the aging process doesn’t necessarily mean slowing down! Keep entering those races and impressing our youth. Age is nothing but mind over matter … if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter!

Calvin Zaryski MKin, CEP



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