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There is an increasing number of runners covering the marathon distance after the age of 70 in times that would put much younger people to shame. How does the ageing process affect performance? What is the age limit for running without risk? Here's our answer…
It is generally considered that the VO2max (i.e. the maximum quantity of oxygen that the body can take in, transport and consume per unit of time) drops by an average of 10% per decade from the age of 30 onwards. This decrease is cut as soon as you begin running on a regular basis. Consequently, it is common to see amateur athletes who begin intense training at a relatively late age, improve their performance on half marathons and full marathons (and hence their VO2max) at the age of 50.
The fact remains that this decline is a real phenomenon that cannot be physiologically reversed or resisted. There are many causes for this. These include the reduced capacity of the ageing heart to pump as much blood with each heart beat as well as the loss of muscle mass and elasticity that causes a drop in the "requirement" for oxygen in the blood. There is even a theory that the central nervous system protects the muscles during the ageing process in order to prevent them from working too hard.Naturally, this has an effect on the performance level of amateur runners.
Forcing yourself to include so-called quality training sessions in your weekly training schedule.
This generally involves interval-type training including 15 x 30/30 or 10 x 400 m or 8 x 800 m. This exercise does not have to be done on an athletics track. However, it's important to run on flat calibrated terrain. Regularly participating in 10 km type competitions is also an important factor in reducing the decline of the VO2max after the age of 50.
This is what a lot of high-level runners notice when they reach the age of 50:their stride shortens – there is no way of fighting against the reduced flexibility of the muscles and tendons. Naturally, this is caused by ageing. Yet, a lack of exercise (so much time spent in front of the computer screen!) speeds up the stiffening process.
Stretch! This should not be done in a stationary position as was done in the past – and as some runners still do in a rather awkward manner – but by repeating dynamic stretching exercises that stimulate blood flow to the muscle tissue before exercising. An in-depth massage conducted by a sports physiotherapist can also have a positive effect on retaining a certain flexibility.
The results of the scientific studies published over the last few decades confirm the fact that muscle strength drops after the age of 40 and collapses after the age of 65.However amateur/specialist long-distance runners are less affected by this than sprinters.
Start a weight training programme in addition to the running training. In the gym – using weights and home gyms – or using one's own body weight (even elastics). Two weekly sessions are recommended for those who wish to retain and increase their muscle mass.
Is there an age limit for running?Should this be the only question?After all, running is the most natural and obvious "sports" discipline. Every day, men and women over the age of 70, 80 or even 90 years old run, jog and are eager to accomplish certain activities in their lives or for the enjoyment of increasing the pace of their existence.
Of course, it is advisable to take certain precautions when running is used to maintain balance in one's daily life after the age of 50. An ultrasound scan of the heart at rest and when exercising can be conducted at regular intervals. Similarly, check-ups with a sports physiotherapist can help to treat slight injuries more easily or even prevent occasional recurring injuries.In the end, the enjoyment of running is the perfect antidote to ageing.
Running is a fantastic means of escape. For the body, it's also an unfathomable source of well-being. This is because, beyond the inevitable decline, runners discover a new way of approaching the effort required and coping with the body's limitations during the ageing process. Running is a school of life:particularly after the age of 50!
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