Aging as an athlete can be scary, but it’s far from the death sentence that our culture makes it out to be. Within the past 100 years our attitude toward fitness, and athleticism has changed. For thousands of years humans would stay active, and fit, in an attempt to maintain a healthy lifestyle, for countless health benefits. Recently physical fitness has changed from a basic necessity to a choice. With this shift has come the extreme focus of competitive athletics, and with that the cultural shift in who we believe needs to be in shape. Exercise is still held in high value for young people, especially athletes, but as people age, they tend to stop exercising. This has led to a serious decline in health for our elderly population. This isn’t to say that there are not exceptions. Yuichiro Miura scaled Mount Everest at 83, 40 year old Kim Collins ran the 100 meter in under 10 seconds, Gordie Howe played professional ice hockey until he was 50. Getting old isn’t the end, but believing that it is, surely will be your end.
There are an abundance of ways to determine health and fitness, in a person. One common way is based on their Vo2Max. Vo2 Max is the maximum ability to utilize oxygen, and is essential in all endurance related sports. Vo2 Max declines as you age. Exercise and training can minimize and offset this decline. There have been recorded examples of aging olympic athletes, where their heart rate declines, but the amount of blood that they pump each time increases enough to completely offset the negative change. Until recently it was believed that once you passed 50 years old, you could no longer increase your Vo2 Max. This belief was upended by a recent study conducted on Robert Marchand, at the age of 103. With a shift in his cycling focused training regime, he managed to increase his Vo2 Max, shortly before setting a world record at the age of 105.
As age increases we see a decline in type ii ‘fast-twitch’ muscles, responsible for explosive power and quick movements. Our type i muscles, responsible for endurance based exercise degrade at a slower rate. This means that there is one important thing to keep in mind, that our style of movement may have to change. Instead of focusing on explosive high power jumps, there will need to be a switch to endurance based training. This can also help reduce the risk of serious injury. Another physical aspect of aging is increased possibility for injury, as well as decreased rehab and healing speed. With the decreased healing speed, comes increased rehabilitation responsibility, including active rest days, stretching, and potentially a use for cross training through yoga, or lifting.
As elderly folk age society tends to write them off as not being useful anymore and incapable of day to day tasks. We recently talked to Victor Crittenden, one of the coaches at PK Move, a parkour company founded in 2015, which is bringing the transformative power of parkour to special needs populations, including the elderly. One of the things they work on to restore in older members of society is the ability to get down onto the floor and stand back up. Sometimes classes take place completely sitting down because the students are incapable of standing up. Training as the elderly to become an athlete becomes a way to regain your independence. As an older athlete it becomes less about pushing boundaries and riskier tricks and more about doing basic movement and maintaining basic motor functions.
One in four Americans aged 65+ falls each year. Programs and classes like what PK Move are doing can help reduce this statistic. Parkour is a phenomenal foundation for learning to safely fall and gaining the strength and range of motion to get back up. Age is nothing but a number, society isn’t right about when you get past a certain age then that’s it. Make the choice that physical fitness is a necessity for your life so that you can have a longer better quality of living. No matter where you are in life there is always somewhere you can start. Start now! Look out for a future interview we want to do with Nancy Lorentz, president and co-founder at PK Move.
The PPK Philly Team