What is the best age for athletes

Age sets limits on performance

Obviously, regular exercise is one of the most effective measures to increase blood flow to the brain and thus to slow down the age-related decline in performance. The effect of sport, especially in older people, is currently not surpassed by any drug.

The statement made in the 1960s that older people can no longer be trained has proven to be wrong. There is now agreement that older athletes over the age of 50 can be trained just like younger ones. The level of adaptation of the elderly depends, however, on his or her individual resilience, the type of sport and the personal performance goal. The same training principles apply as for younger athletes, only at a lower level. It is purely physiological causes that limit the level of stress in training in middle age. The regeneration time also objectively lasts longer after the training load in old age and increases with increasing age. The older athlete can no longer achieve performances like a young athlete, but he does something for his health.

Aging and Performance

The current lifestyle of most people does not challenge their motor skills. The degree of movement no longer corresponds to the genetic program - let's say that of the hunter and gatherer - it is not set for under-demands. In the course of getting older, in addition to the low level of physical activity, there is usually an incorrect diet. This means that the increase in risk factors for metabolic and cardiovascular diseases is individually pre-programmed. It has now been clearly proven that both sporting activities and the regular intake of special medications can have a health-stabilizing and life-prolonging effect. In the seventies and eighties, the claim of a longer life for those involved in sports had not yet been scientifically proven. In the meantime, Finnish and American studies are available that prove an absolute life extension of healthy people through endurance sport from 1.5 to 2 years compared to healthy non-exercisers. Every form of sporting activity is based on self-awareness and requires exercise programs for a sport that have been learned in adolescence. If, for example, the child does not learn to swim in time, Hans will never learn it anymore - the adult will hardly be able to use this sport for preventive training.

Too little attention is paid to precautionary measures

Whether or not athletic stress is still good for an aging person is strongly influenced by the social environment, including advertising. Doctors are not insignificantly involved in this public prejudice. At present, medical care for the sick and secondary and tertiary prevention after illnesses dominate. Primary prevention, the precautionary measure that would have to focus on the still healthy, is often left to its own devices and is not yet practiced with sufficient mass effectiveness in Germany. As soon as the first health complaints occur, people who are getting older are generally recommended to behave gently. The result is that his muscle mass decreases and he needs less energy. Unfortunately, he then usually also gains fat.

The first "diseases of civilization" set in. In addition, only those therapeutic and preventive measures are currently considered effective on an international scale, which prevent premature death or help prolong life. "Joint arthrosis" or "back pain" are to be assessed differently than z. B. a heart attack. You don't die from orthopedic complaints! Doctors have set other priorities here. The functional variables of blood pressure and heart rate, which characterize the cardiovascular system, are therefore currently in the foreground in preventive medical care. According to recommendations of the Hypertension League, which are based on the results of a large study (HOT study), blood pressure should be below 140/90 mm Hg, regardless of age. It is known from this study that the lowest mortality rates were those who had a blood pressure of less than 138/83 mm Hg and a heart rate (Hf) of less than 60 beats per minute. This applies both to patients who have not been trained under the influence of medication (e.g. taking beta-receptor blockers, lipid-lowering agents and platelet aggregation inhibitors) and to older endurance athletes who do not take such medication. Internationally there is agreement that regular and moderate endurance training leads to a lowering of the blood pressure of about 10 mm Hg and to a lowering of the HR at rest and under stress of 5 to 10 beats / min. At the moment there are relatively certain ideas about how burdens must look to be beneficial to health. Of all possible sports, it is the endurance sports or the sports with endurance components that best lower blood pressure and heartbeat rate. If 20 years ago the resting heart rate below 40 beats / min was still the exception, today these are almost the rule in competitive sports and partly also in fitness sports. Athletes achieve these physiologically favorable regulatory changes in the cardiovascular system through regular and correctly dosed endurance training.

Limits of athletic performance in the course of life

In all sports there have been huge improvements in objectively measurable performance. Increases in performance are based on effective training methodology and on the further development of sports equipment and sports technology as well as modified sports facilities. Together, these factors influence 60 percent of the improvement in performance. The inherited (genetic) potential of the sporting talent has around 40 percent influence on performance. In popular sports such as running, swimming, cycling, cross-country skiing and others. At the moment there is a remarkable improvement and consolidation of top performances. This applies to both the maximum achievements that are achieved between the ages of 20 and 30 and the age records between the ages of 35 and 80. It is noticeable in endurance sports that the older athletes (over the age of 40) always have the longer distances in the sights of their record efforts. Since the long distances require a lower intensity of exertion, this fact obviously suits the physiological possibilities of the elderly athletes, who are more geared towards continuous performance.

Why is the performance decreasing?

The decrease in performance with increasing age is proven by numerous findings. One of the functional variables is the determination of the maximum aerobic energy metabolism via the maximum oxygen uptake (VO2max) an internationally recognized measured variable. The VO2max decreases with increasing age.

The acceptance of the VO2max in old age takes place with and without training. Without training, the VO2max between the ages of 25 and 70 per decade of life by eight to ten percent and with continued training by four to five percent. This raises the question of which physiological influencing variables still have an impact on the aging process? Analyzes of changes in body fat over the course of life showed that fat gain occurred despite lifelong physical activity. The decreasing muscle mass in under-stressed muscles has been replaced by fat. With an unchanged body weight (normal weight), the body's own fat reserves increase by around 2 kg (13-15 percent) between the ages of 50 and 60. This age-related weight gain was also not easily influenced by physical training. Even a training load of two to five hours / week reduced the body weight on a long-term average by only 1.1 kg, but prevented increasing “obesity”. Obviously, testosterone plays a key role in fat storage in this process. New studies (Kaufman and Vermeulen, 1998) on the function of the sex-shaping and anabolic hormone testosterone show that the concentration of free testosterone decreases annually by 1.2 percent after the age of 25.

The release of growth hormone (STH) also decreases with age. The testosterone deficiency leads to a decrease in muscle mass and the compensation of this with fat (extreme in eunuchs). If, despite great efforts to increase the training load, older athletes fail to improve their performance, an exercise-related testosterone deficiency may be the cause. Our own studies in a triple long triathlon showed highly significant decreases in the concentration of free and total testosterone even during exercise in athletes with an average age of 39 years. However, the fluctuations in testosterone decrease vary greatly from person to person.

The ability to handle higher speeds, i.e. H. Being able to put more strain on your muscles can depend on the compensation possibilities of the body's own testosterone and growth hormone. Even if the older athlete masters astonishing endurance loads, he is disadvantaged in his ability to regenerate (recovery time) compared to the younger ones. This also applies to top athletes over the age of 30, who find it increasingly difficult to cope with the necessary intensive training loads and who are therefore looking for various ways to improve regeneration.

What changes from the age of 50?

The elderly athlete over the age of 50 needs a clearly longer recovery time after training and thus objectively achieves a lower overall exposure than the younger athlete. Long-term training documentation shows that despite a significant increase in stress in old age, there is no clear improvement in performance.

In addition to the previously known signs of wear and tear on the muscle fibers, the accumulation of metabolic end products, the loss of no longer efficient cells in the heart and muscles, the decrease in the elasticity of the vascular muscles, the restricted breathing reserve during exertion or the decrease in the regenerative capacity of the muscles, this is the reason for a weakening anabolic stress processing of the elderly athlete discusses the body's own testosterone deficiency. What is new is that an under-supply of testosterone could also be responsible for longer regeneration times, especially after intense stress with higher muscle cell wear. To clarify this problem, experiments were carried out on senior athletes by administering testosterone to them. Muscular protein synthesis and muscle strength clearly increased in men who received 2.5 mg / day testosterone between 60 and 70 years of age (Urban, 1995). The constant stress-related insufficient testosterone supply, which represents a borderline situation for the body, remains in need of discussion. These athletes often have erectile dysfunction, which they keep quiet about. From the age of 40, the formation of testosterone, free testosterone, androstenedione, dihydrotestosterone and dehydroepiandosterone in the testes is significantly reduced. According to Nieschlag and Behre (1998), 35-40 percent of men over 65 years of age had testosterone concentrations below 3.5 ng / ml (12.1 nmol / l). Between the ages of 60 and 80, 22 percent of men had subnormal total testosterone (<11 nmol / l or <3.5 ng / ml) and decreased free testosterone (<18 pmol / l). The normal levels of free (biologically active) testosterone are 31.3 to 163 pmol / l. The decrease in male sex hormones (androgens) in old age is referred to as "Androgen Decline in the Aging Male" (ADAM), analogous to the menopause in women.

What do the hormones say?

There is therapeutic clarity about the pros and cons of the need to substitute estrogens and androgens in women going through menopause. In the case of aging men, if they do not suffer from a pathological testosterone deficiency (hypogonadism), there is still no consistent acceptance of a possible testosterone substitution from a medical and performance physiological point of view. The improvements in memory performance and life activity with an adequate testosterone supply are discussed as further arguments.

Doping in recreational sport?

With the current discussion about permitted and prohibited substitution in competitive sport, the question naturally arises as to whether an elderly athlete with a medically prescribed testosterone intake violates the general rules of fairness when taking part in a competition. In recreational sport, doping control examinations are currently not common and for financial reasons they are not planned. In competitive sports, however, the additional testosterone intake as a result of the muscle-building effect of testosterone, in accordance with the rules of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), is a clear doping offense. If there are tangible medical or therapeutic advantages of testosterone substitution in the next few years, the question of doping would also arise for competition-oriented senior athletes. A reassessment outside of competitive sport is only necessary when there is knowledge of long-term tolerability and there is medical clarity about the need for testosterone substitution. In addition to the question of the hormonal treatment of elderly athletes in preventive sports, which needs to be clarified, they should ensure adequate recovery phases and measures to promote recovery, particularly due to their increased need for regeneration, such as B. massages, heat applications or substitution of micronutrients.

 

Prof. Dr. med. habil. Georg Neumann
Leipzig