Masters athletes take heart

As an athlete who has just entered the realm of “Masters” (I turned 40 last September) I am intrigued by information about older athletes and the aging process of athletes. I am sure, if you are “past the threshold” like me that you have been told countless times that your performance, strength, stamina, [insert any word associated with young vibrant athletes here] is inevitably going to decline.

I am the first to admit that things definitely change at this ‘advanced’ age. I have struggled to deal with the changes in my body and figure out the training that is going to work for the new me. But I’ve always believed that I can still be fast and strong, even in my older body. (I am still working on proving this…)

You have to admit that more and more aged athletes are competing at a high level, not just at a high Masters level, but against younger competition. Yes, they probably have to train differently than when they were 20, but they can still be competitive.

I recently came across a study that gave me even more hope; hope that perhaps we shouldn’t accept that we older folks can no longer be the athlete we once were.

The study, titled “Chronic Exercise Preserves Lean Muscle Mass in Masters Athletes” [] ends with this sentence “This study, and those reviewed here, document the possibility to maintain muscle mass and strength across the ages via simple lifestyle changes.” Bless you, bless you, oh study authors.

I will quote the authors below because they explain it so much better than I could… Note that: PT = Peak Torque. BF = Body Fat. IMAT = intramuscular adipose tissue.

“We found that chronic intense exercise preserved muscle mass and prevented fat infiltration of muscle in masters athletes. Although changes in body composition were observed, including increased total BF, there was no decline in absolute muscle mass and the fat infiltration of muscle itself, IMAT, was not increased. These findings are in contrast with studies conducted in well-functioning men and women aged 70 to 79 years who are not considered masters athletes. In a study by Delmonico et al,19 both aging men and women were reported to have experienced an age-related increase in fatty infiltration of mid-thigh skeletal muscle. The preservation of muscle mass and lack of fatty infiltration in the muscles of our subjects are dramatically illustrated in Figure 1.

More important perhaps than mere retention of muscle mass and integrity was the retention of muscle strength in the masters athletes. We studied masters athletes aged 40 to 81 years and observed no difference in quadriceps PT until participants entered the 60- to 69-year-old age group. There was no significant difference in PT in the 60-, 70-, and 80-year-old age groups. Thus, although PT did decline beginning at around age 60 years, the decline did not significantly increase with further aging. “

I think the most telling part of the study is the aforementioned “Figure 1”, below.

FIGURE 1: Typical quadriceps MRI scan of a 40-year-old triathlete compared with the quadriceps MRI scans of a 70-year-old triathlete and a 74-year-old sedentary man. Note the significant visual difference between the SCAT and IMAT of the sedentary man versus masters athletes.

That’s all, I’m off to do some chronic, high intensity exercise!




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