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Peak physical age is increasing

Athletes are now able to stay fitter and healthier for longer than ever before, according to one physiologist.

Traditionally, elite sportsmen and women have tended to peak in their professional careers in the mid to late 20s, but recent trends have seen experienced pros maintain their success well into their 30s, says Staffordshire University associate professor of exercise physiology Jacky Forsyth.

Medical advancements in training and healthcare, she said, have led to people playing sports for longer at all levels.

“Most research suggests that performance decline occurs around the age of 50 for both men and women,” she said.

“There have been medical advancements, and we have a better understanding of how the body responds and adapts to training. Already, the age for being at peak is getting older – maybe this is more to do with a societal change than a technological/treatment change.”

“There is also the idea that, for endurance sports, an older age is preferable since, with ageing, the body responds more to endurance training in terms of muscle tissue and cellular adaptation,” Associate Professor Forsyth continued.

One trend that is constant in sports, she observed, is that the average age of female champions across golf, tennis, athletics and cycling is much younger than that of men in the same sports.

She surmised that this is down to biological factors.

“It is probably a mixture of things. For example, for women, in the past, it was thought that an athletic career termination would be inevitable if a woman wished to start a family,” she mused.

“Females tend to drop out of sport around adolescence if there are body changes that get in the way of achieving what they want to achieve, so in sports like golf, there may be less of an influence of pubertal changes that disrupt playing.”

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