The Ageing Athlete

Ageing is unavoidable. It is happening to us all. From the year 2000 through to 2030, the number of adults over 85 years of age will increase by 204%! However, there is a simple way to slow down the effects of ageing……and it is to behave like an athlete.

Currently most people older than 75 years of age have 3 or more chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease or musculoskeletal disability and take no less than 5 medications. Chronic conditions are difficult and expensive to treat while the gradual impairment of vision, hearing and brain function are directly related to ageing. This is not a good outlook!!! However, it is all not bad news….we need to see ourselves as an ‘aging athlete’. Let me explain. The degenerative effects of ageing are most definitely modifiable and the primary strategy to achieve this is with regular and consistent EXERCISE. An enormous amount of research has been done studying the positive effects of exercise on the ageing process.


Muscle Loss – From the age of 35 years gradual muscle loss, which is a process called sarcopenia, occurs at a rate of 1.25%/year. However, if you partake in consistent, regular exercise you can slow this rate of decline by 50%!

Bone condition – Even if you have osteoporosis or osteoarthritis consistent, regular exercise can reduce the disability related to these degenerative bone conditions. Sleep – Ageing negatively effects the quality of our sleep and regular, consistent exercise can help normalize sleep patterns.

Hormone – Our hormonal system becomes less functional as we age, decreasing our ability to regulate blood sugar levels and decreasing our sex hormone production. Regular, consistent exercise can not only slow the rate of this dysfunction but even help normalize it!

Central nervous system – The central nervous system, which is our brain and spinal cord, controls our ability to perform complex learning tasks, movement coordination, reaction times and emotional stability. These are all adversely affected by age and consistent, regular exercise can actually improve these vital central nervous system functions in elderly populations!

Ok, so we know that regular, consistent exercise is great, what TYPE of exercise should we do?


This way you will likely be more consistent and regular with it on a weekly basis. Walking with friends, Pilates, swimming, tennis, jogging, badminton, dancing, gym classes, weight-training, yoga, the list is endless!


The current American College of Sports Medicine guidelines recommend 300 minutes of MODERATE intensity exercise OR 150 minutes of VIGOROUS intensity exercise per week. They also recommend 40-60 minutes of resistance/strength training per week. Research has shown that performing only aerobic exercise or only resistance/strength training on a weekly basis is not as good as both performed together! An example of a weekly plan might be 5 sessions of a 30-minute brisk walk with some stairs and undulations included to achieve some shortness of breath and 2 sessions of 20-minute bodyweight exercises including squats, push-ups, side lunges and crunches.


It’s important to understand that by increasing how hard you perform your physical exercise, which is called its INTENSITY, YOU INCREASE THE BENEFITS OF THAT EXERCISE! Exercising at higher intensities achieve greater body system changes and tissue adaptations.

Ageing is inevitable. By viewing ourselves as an ‘aging athlete’ and incorporating consistent, regular exercise in our lives we will add years to our life and more importantly, life to our years!

Written by Michael Bushell, Senior Physiotherapist, Prohealth In Touch Physiotherapy. Photo credit: George Haywood (Katherine Frey / The Washington Post); Jan Miller(IRONMAN Official Site); Lorelei de la Reza (Dave Rossman/The Chronicle); Nancy Avitable (William B plowman/ USA TODAY); and Ernestine Shepher(
Comments for this post are closed.