By Martin Sigrist
We are in entirely uncharted territory regarding the understanding of how age affects the body, specifically challenging the notion that “older” equals “slower and weaker.”
Until relatively recently, the mid 1950s in most countries, most people would live relatively active lives just by being alive. As a child in the 1960s, I walked miles every day just to get to school and the games I played all involved exercise.
Back then, your age meant not only how old you were but how active you had been. So a 40 year old mind would be in a body that had seen close to 40 years of working out. Not in the gym, just doing all the jobs that needed to be done and could only be done with muscle power.
But times changed and, for all sorts of reasons, many people started to exercise less and eat more food that was less nutritious.
As a result a huge cohort of people have spent most of their adult life following a lifestyle that is labelled, accurately, as “unhealthy.”
This means the orthodox mindset “getting older means getting worse, you will inevitably become weaker and slower” is no longer necessarily true.
This mindset may have been true in generations past when everyone was active from the day they were born until the day they died.
And it may be true for lifelong athletes now. (Though even some full time professional athletes are refusing to lie down and give in, Chris Horner won the Vuelta at 41.)
It is not true for the those described above, those who may have the mind of a 50 year in a body that has seen only a couple of decades, long past, of real hard physical work.
The evidence for these people, the huge majority in some countries, is that, regardless of your age, if you have not exercised for decades then starting to exercise intelligently and with purpose will mean that you get fitter, feel better and live longer. Moreover you can continue to improve year on year.
I’m proof. I was first asked to contribute to RBR because I offered myself up as a counter example of the dangerous mindset that old equals worse. I’m an outlier due to mind, not body. I’m a scientist, and when I started training I did what any scientist should do. Determine the goals (get fitter), set a baseline (FTP test) then have an open mind and use all honest means to experiment with what might make me better. Continue with this until I stopped improving. 15 years on I haven’t reached that point yet.
I may be an exception but I am not alone. There are others. I’ve previously recommended Squat University as an excellent source on the subject of using strength training to improve life quality. Aaron Horschig recently interviewed a remarkable lady by the name of Joan MacDonald.
A short version of her story is here: https://www.womenshealthmag.com/uk/fitness/fat-loss/a33497673/joan-macdonald-transformation/.
I’m a psychology graduate and one thing I learned is that there is in fact real evidence that you are as “old as you feel.” The single most important factor in becoming healthier with age is mindset.
If you believe that you can improve after decades of inactivity, you will, most likely, improve. If you do not believe then you may not even try.
It’s a choice. But it should be an informed choice. And that means ditching the dangerous stereotype that labels everyone who has passed 40 as being on a one way trip downhill with no chance of turning themselves round.
The decades when I grew up were times of “revolution.” I may be in my 60s now, but I’m still revolting. I’d urge others with memories of the “swinging 60s” to keep swinging, stay positive and join the new “old age” fitness revolution that’s happening now.
Now among the world’s fittest sexagenarians Martin Sigrist started riding on doctor’s orders in 2005 and had to push his bike up his first hill. Next year he soloed the Tour de France. He has since experienced every form of road cycling from criterium to ultra endurance. His ongoing mission is to use the latest in science and technology to fight a, so far successful, battle against Father Time.
The old adage, my mind says I’m 28 but my body still lets me know I’m 59. I’ve may not be as fast but you can still ride at a pretty good pace. It takes me longer to work up to long distances. My recovery between rides is what is most affected. Sometimes I push to experiment. Some times my body responds well, other times it tells me, don’t do that again. Age is a difficult thing to accept but I will continue to let my 28 year Old mind dictate life.
Kerry Irons says
At the age of 71 and having ridden 9-10 thousand miles a year for decades and over 5,000 miles per year starting at about the age of 19, I can tell you with some certainty that getting older means getting slower. That said I certainly am a lot faster than most my age. At about 65 is when I noticed that my “head room” kind of evaporated. I can still ride a good steady speed but don’t have much “jump” and keeping up with younger riders on hills is now a challenge that it wasn’t until my mid-60s.
Matt Kavanaugh says
Kerry what happened to you at 65 happened to me at about 55 but I’m still at it 10 years later. Slower but wiser I like to think.
Jose J says
Greetings – I’m 69 years old and in denial. I ride 3 to 4 times a week. Not as fast, but I have no problems going uphill and keeping a steady pace. I see elevation as a challenge. By the way I’m still employed and get up at 6am, ride 10 to 15 miles before I start work. Weekend’s I go for 50 miles or more. I truly believe that riding and work have kept my mind and body sharp and health. To all my 60 something buddies – keep riding.