Are You Past 40, or Just Past It?

The clock never stops ticking.  Each year we get a little older and the hills seem to get a little steeper.  Have you wondered why, or perhaps of more use, wondered how you can slow down the ageing process?
As people are now living longer, there is a lot of research into ageing and the effects of exercise on leading healthier and more active lives.  So read on to find out a bit of what has been learned.

If you were a competitive cyclist or runner, at age 40 you would be classed as a Veteran, and with good reason. You will by that age be on the downward slippery slope.  So here is the bad news!

Athletic performance, and that includes climbing up Box Hill, is related to strength.  Maximum attainable strength for both men and women peaks at about 25 years of age. From then onwards strength and muscle mass decline by about of 0.5 to 1% per annum. The effects are more pronounced in the lower than upper extremity muscles. Not good news for cyclists and runners legs!
The following statistics are based on age related world records times for running the marathon. Note how the decline accelerates with age.

Decline per decade – Aged 30 to 40 was 2.5%
Decline per decade – Aged 40 to 50 was 8.3%
Decline per decade – Aged 50 to 60 was 13.5%
Decline per decade – Aged 60 to 70 was 14.0%.

Now that I have passed the biblical three score years and ten I will have lost some 40% of my youthful potential.  No wonder I struggle to keep up on our Sunday club rides!
Although the above figures are taken from marathon runners, similar results can be expected for cyclists.  This is shown for example, by the standard time allowances for veteran cyclists, where a 30% time allowance is given for a 70 year old rider in a 10 mile time trial.
The main reason for this loss in performance is due to the effects of sarcopenia.

So what is sarcopenia?

Wikipedia  has a lot to say about it but I will keep it brief!
Although sarcopenia is a new term (from the Greek, meaning vanishing flesh), it is not a new medical condition.  It is only the new term for age related loss of lean muscle mass.

All muscles are made up of thousands of individual muscle fibres, but these die off as we age.
For example, the vastus medialis muscle (part of the quadriceps) of a 20-year-old contains about 800,000 fibres, while that of a 70 year-old contains only about 200,000, a loss of some 75%!  On average we lose about 10% of muscle mass each decade after reaching about 40 years of age.   But it gets worse. From age 70 to 80 years a further 30% of the remaining strength can be expected to be lost in just that decade.
No wonder I find the hills get harder to climb with each passing year!

So that is the bad news, but there is also good news for you regular cyclists.  But you will have to wait until my fingers are rested and recovered.  The effects of  sarcopenia I’m afraid!

Next week the results of research into how to slow down the natural advance of sarcopenia will be revealed.