By Martin Sigrist
Takeaway: There is more to aging than counting. Humans are complicated and we can at one and the same time be a number of different “years old.” The calendar may lie, our metabolic age may be greater or less. Also our fitness age. Indeed if you have never have the opportunity to train properly even once a master aged cyclist, your best years may still lie ahead.
My particular hobby horse is the stereotype that as you get older you are inevitably doomed to get worse is just plain wrong. This view can be misinterpreted as a “denial of science” and the clear and obvious fact that as we get older we change in ways that superficially appear to be a negative.
There is no denying that. However the science is actually more complicated. The link between calendar years and the various aspects of our health is there but it is variable. It can differ hugely between individuals. Some, sadly, don’t even live to see 60 despite following an apparently healthy lifestyle, others can live a life of debauchery and still keep singing Satisfaction to sell out crowds when pushing 80.
I, for example, am 62. However if I want to cheer myself up I step on my scales which have a function that works out my metabolic age, which is how old I am based on my body composition. All of a sudden I’m 15 years younger, not even yet 50.
If I want to cheer myself up even more I’ll look at Strava and see how far up the leaderboards I am compared to most 25 year olds.
There are I think three useful different measures of aging that are useful to bear in mind.
Calendar Age: The simple one. It’s what you celebrate on your birthday
Metabolic Age: This is how old your body actually is, taking into account all the many variables that may affect it. This can vary widely between individuals born on exactly the same day. The trend is, yes, that we get worse but there is clear evidence that this process can be slowed down considerably by lifestyle choice and even evidence that it may be possible to reverse some aging effects. For more on this see here:
Fitness Age: This is different yet. It is affected by metabolic age but while, despite the findings in the video above, it’s a long time before reversing metabolic age will be possible almost everyone who has not been a full time athlete all their lives can reverse their fitness age.
Getting fit is not something that happens overnight. In most sports, including cycling, it can take years, even decades, even for the most gifted. Most champions have been train full time, most of them since being a child.
Your fitness age may well be compromised by years of poor movement habits. Getting up out of a chair might not be a result of calendar years passing but because every one that passed had thousands of repetitions of a bad movement and resultant wear and tear. Or if you rarely if ever move in a certain way (lifting a weight above your head for example or getting up off the floor) your muscles “forget” how to do it properly if you try. You are not unfit, more “used badly.”
If you have never trained before in your life or trained with severe constraints (as most living a normal life will) then the freedom and resources that retirement can bring can be an opportunity, perhaps, to train properly with freedom and focus for the first time in your life. As I’ve said elsewhere not just train physiology but every aspect that affects performance including using mobility and stability exercises to help fix root cause problems caused by not moving as nature intended and as you did when young.
It is then a quite realistic aspiration even when long past becoming a master aged athlete that year on year you may see improvement, even if only small. The only thing that is certain regarding your fitness age is that if you think you will get worse, chances are you will.
Email me on [email protected] if you want more info on this or any topic I have raised. I’m a slow mailbox reader but I will get back to you.
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.