Add Life to Your Years. Run!

By David Harding, DEKK Coaching

The science is clear, when it comes to athletic performance, we can’t outrun Father Time.

Normal physiological changes associated with aging include a lower maximal cardiorespiratory capacity (VO2max), diminishing muscular strength, and an accumulation and redistribution of body fat during middle and older age. All lead to declining performance.

For those of us aging runners seeking PBs, it doesn’t look good. Except for a couple of important considerations.

First, individual responses to aging vary considerably, both due to genetic and lifestyle factors. Second, we generally do less physical activity as we get older, and the intensity of our activity also tends to decline.

So while we may not get to pick our parents, we can control our lifestyle in ways that can help us keep pace with our years. We don’t have to do less physical activity. In fact, we can learn to train smarter and add specific types of strength training.

The benefits of continued aerobic and strength work are clear. A more favourable body composition, a “younger” cardiorespiratory fitness profile, a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and faster nerve conduction velocity – all are indications of slower physiological aging in athletes who continue to train.

And you don’t have to be a trained athlete to reap the benefits of continued physical activity. Similar benefits are seen in previously sedentary older adults who engage in moderate-intensity aerobic and resistance training.

Furthermore, unlike the elite athlete whose performance may top out in their 20s after years of high-end training, someone who takes up running later in life may continue to set personal bests due to improvements in biomechanics, aerobic capacity and muscle strength compared to a previously sedentary lifestyle.

As coaches, we can’t assume that an individual athlete’s performance will follow the average population response.

Typical workouts for aging athletes include a blend of moderate and high-intensity training and sufficient rest or easy-day efforts to allow time for recovery and adaptation.

Aerobic exercise and strength training in older adults can also improve cognitive abilities such as memory, mental processing speed and decision-making. Through regular exercise, we can maintain a high quality of life and reduce our risk of developing chronic illnesses and conditions.

As articulated by Olga Kotelko, a Canadian masters track and field star who passed away in June 2014 at age 94, less than one week after competing in her final competition:

“It adds life to your years. Exercise makes us happy, in a deep and lasting way. It chases away the blues and keeps them away.”

It’s never too late to start getting active. You can benefit from regular physical activity and exercise regardless of any previous background in sport or fitness.

So get out there and join a community running or walking club, sign up for one of the many weekend events this spring, and start to enjoy the rewards of an active lifestyle.

David Harding is owner of DEKK Coaching and the Marathon Coach of the Ottawa Running Club. An avid runner and triathlete, this spring he is competing in the Boston Marathon before taking on the Ottawa 10K at the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend.