Many successful athletes start out at a very young age. As children, we are encouraged to play and be active. This leads many down the road to sports and competition, a fun and exciting way to be active. When we are kids, it all seems so easy. Stretch? Are you kidding?! Why would I ever need to stretch? Warm up? Ha! No need. As a youth you can just go, and rarely pay a price.
As we enter into adulthood, our bodies change and need different care along the way. We need to think about what fuel we put into our system, and how much rest we get. We still feel like we don’t have to put to much effort into maintaining our athletic ability, but it is more of an effort than when we were children.
So, when is the time we are at our best? The average age of an Olympian is 26 years old. That is no coincidence! According to a study by a team of researchers at the Institute of Biomedical Research and Sports Epidemiology in France, the peak age or 'best' age of performance for athletes in track and field, swimming and even chess is 26.1.
That’s not to say that you can’t be great at other ages, but that is the peak. So, what happens when you pass that age? Some think that your skills diminish rapidly. Some think that it is a very gradual decline. The truth is that it can be both and neither. If you are one to put a lot of effort into your preferred athletic endeavor, than you can slow down the clock and keep yourself in great condition. Things that can help include maintain a good diet full of lean proteins, fruits and vegetables and avoiding high caloric, fried and fatty foods. Make sure you get good, consistent sleep to aid in your recovery on a daily basis. Another key is to do a thorough warm-up before exercise, and do a cool-down with stretching afterwards. I also recommend using a foam roller to work out tight spots and liberally see a physical therapist and masseuse to help keep yourself limber.
As role models we need to look no further than some of the athletes that have found success at the Rio Olympics. Michael Phelps is ancient for a swimmer. He is 31, but he is still elite and proved that with 5 gold medals. Usain Bolt is about to turn 30. Again, for a sprinter that is old, but he is still the fastest man in the world and is also wearing gold around his neck. Then there is gymnast Oksana Chusovitina from Uzbekistan. She is competing in her 7th Olympics at age 41! Yes, 41 and a competitive gymnast! She didn’t win a medal this time, but she did make an event final in the vault. That means she is one of the top 8 gymnasts in the entire world on that apparatus, in a sport that used to feature only teenagers.
A proverb that I love is:
“We do not stop exercising because we grow old - We grow old because we stop exercising.”
As we age, we might need to adjust our routines and take more time, but if your desire to do it is high, you can find a way to make it happen. Commit yourself to being the best you can be at whatever age you currently are, and don’t stop working at your goals.
The older athlete has several things in their favor that can actual help compensate for diminished physical abilities. Namely, they are more experienced than their younger counterpart. They can draw on this experience to make better decisions. They know their bodies really well and can make better-informed decisions about when to train and when to rest, etc. Finally, with age usually comes more wisdom. Looking through the lens of experience can have a sharpening effect, and this effect can make a huge difference.
The bottom line is that older athletes can compete and do well against their younger counterparts. They just might have to eat their broccoli and get a good nights rest beforehand to do it. Keep training!