When you think of track and field you think of Usain Bolt or Ben Johnson. Athletes in their late 20s, early 30s showing incredible feats of speed and strength. At what age do people stop competing in track? Do they need to?
Track and Field is a diverse category of events and is fun regardless of your age. I was able to catch up with Doug Smith, President of the Ontario Masters Athletics (OMA). OMA is an organization that helps run events and works with athletes who are 30+ in events ranging from a 200m sprint to half marathons.
As people age, they tend to choose exercises that are lower in intensity. 100 m sprints get replaced with 100 m walks. Things that are less challenging on the body and the heart rate are the exercises of choice. But it doesn’t need to be that way!
Doug was a road runner in the 80s with an impressive racing record that included 23 marathons. He discover OMA in 1988 at a cross country race and began running track in the year after that. Those meets were all it took to get Doug hooked on Athletics and he became part of the Executive council in 1992. At 64, Doug is still competing in track and field!
The use of higher intensity exercise is important as we age. Research is starting to look at the use of power training and how it relates to keeping us independent as we get older. Power training is moving weights quickly. As we get older, we lose muscle. This we know. But what we are starting to figure out is that we lose MORE muscle that responds quickly to things (called our Type II muscle fibres) than muscle that responds a little bit slower (Type I). A study published by Trombetti and colleagues showed that for people 70-85 years of age, they lose 3% of muscle strength over three years but 9-16% of muscle power (1)! That is a big difference and a short amount of time.
Staying in Masters athletics actually helps this!
When researchers compared Masters athletes to controls, they saw that athletes had more muscle mass or bulk but also showed more muscle power. This was especially true for people that had been trained in the shorter sprint events (100m, 200m, long jump etc.) (2). It can make a big difference in terms of preventing falling and moving as we approach our 70s, 80s and beyond.
This is where the roughly 800 members of the OMA have it right! Although their biggest age category is the 40, 45, and 50 age category, their oldest member is 87. I’m sure he has no problem getting up the stairs. With age categories changing every 5 years, Doug says that people enjoy the competition and the ability to compete against different persons as you switch between age categories.
So what are you waiting for? Want to join OMA?! Click here to check them out and throw on a pair of running shoes. They have a ton of upcoming events that you can start training for or for you to attend.
Thanks Doug for sharing your stories and showing us all about what your body is capable in its prime years!
1. Trombetti A, Reid KF, Hars M, Herrmann FR, Pasha E, Phillips EM, Fielding RA. Age-associated declines in muscle mass, strength, power and physical performance: impact on fear of falling and quality of life. Osteopor Int. 2015. [ePub ahead of print].
2. Drey M, Sieber CC, Degens H, McPhee J, Korhonen MT, Muller K et al. Relation between muscle mass, motor units and type of training in master athletes. Cli Physiol Funct Imaging. 2014. 1-7.