#29 – Dr. Seiler on Athletic Performance Longevity

I asked Dr. Stephen Seiler to join me on Wise Athletes to discuss Athletic Performance Longevity. We discuss his research and speculate about how older athletes can keep the machinery healthy for performance today while also doing the right things for athletic longevity, which is way more than just healthspan. You and I, we all want to be strong, healthy, and athletic as long as we live.

Guidelines for Older Athletes Seeking Athletic Longevity

  • Do What You Love, what gives you joy.  If you do the thing that provides camaraderie or whatever you love, you’ll keep doing it.  If you are not smiling and enjoying yourself while doing your training or sport, at least on most days, then figure out why not.  
  • Be Kind to Yourself.  You can’t go hard every day.  And you shouldn’t wrap your self-worth in your ability to go hard all the time.  Enjoying it is far more important than extracting the last 1% of performance. If you enjoy yourself, you’ll be better in the long-run.

And here are some details to get it right:

  • Keep At It.  Exercise is good for your quality of life and longevity, and stopping will just make it harder to start again.
  • Tone Down the Risk Taking.  Don’t “die of stupid”, but also don’t get hurt because then you’ll have to stop exercising.
  • Seek a Flow or Rhythm in the Training Process that accommodates actual (which might be slower) recovery from the hard efforts.  Earn the right to go hard by going easy and recovering well.  Working out too hard, too often can turn exercise into an unhealthy behavior.
  • Lengthen the Workouts to Emphasize Muscular and Cardiovascular Endurance over pure power to compete better with the younger athletes
  • Adopt a Preventive Maintenance Mindset to keep the machine healthy and avoid nagging pain and injury that will interrupt consistency and sap the joy from athletics.   Take time to do some strength training, some mobility work, some core work and some daily stretches to keep you in the game.  And do some body weight-based, speed/power and agility/balance work to hang on to it longer.
  • If You are Not an Athlete yet, then Get Going.  It just gets harder later.  You’ll never be as young as you are today. Find one or more things you love and get going.  And, as a bonus, the newer athlete can make fast progress, and keep getting better for a long time.

Dr. Stephen Seiler YouTube presentation on Aging Athletes

Dr. Seiler published a YouTube presentation called “Does Our Endurance Machinery Slow Down At Different Rates as we Get Old?”   Dr. Seiler’s presentation concluded that athletic performance does drop due to 3 primary factors:

My Notes from Dr. Seiler’s presentation:

(1) Maximum Heart Rate Falls As We Get Older. The drop is steady after age 30 but accelerates after 55. The good news is: (1) at VT1 (the maximum endurance pace, older guys can achieve higher % of VO2Max at the same lactate as younger guys. And, at VT2 (FTP), while older guys have less range in BPM above VT1, old guys can still use a higher % of VO2Max (less advantage than at VT1), perhaps due to larger proportion of slow twitch muscle fibers. 

More good news, looking at multiple biometric factors for older athletes vs. younger athletes with the same performance, older athletes seem to have better cardio adaptation from more years of training. So, while central capacity (heart ability to pump blood) is declining, the peripheral capacity (muscle ability to do work) holds steady if training is maintained.

(2) We Lose Muscle Mass, and Type II Fibers Disappear More Rapidly. Mitochondria are highly responsive to activity, so if we remain active and provide a stimulus they remain number ours and healthy.   Masters athletes have better muscle adaptations than younger athletes which tend to offset the lower vo2max.  Could also be related to lower type 2 which are larger and have less blood flow?  Can fight this off with weight training.  Which can also help us to avoid becoming chair shaped as we adapt to sitting in chairs (or on bike).

Drop in muscle mass accelerates after 50. Strength remains proportional to the muscle size which seems inconsistent with the preferential loss of fast twitch fibers.

(3) loss of loss elasticity in connective tissue. Injury risk?  Pain from lack of mobility. Need to do mobility work. 

Sustainable power =

  • vo2max (what is max oxygen delivery and usage?)
  • fractional utilization (what % vo2max is sustainable over many minutes?) – FTP/VLSS/VT2/Lactate Threshold
  • Work efficiency (oxygen cost of external work) – how efficiently does the aerobic capacity translate to power or velocity?
  • anaerobic capacity plays a role in shorter events for power and velocity

Take homes

  1. Maximal oxygen consumptions declines with age – mostly because max hr declines, no matter what
  2. Muscle explosiveness declines no matter what as we age
  3. Muscle endurance is well maintained if we keep training
  4. Therefore, our maximal endurance capacity declines faster than our sub-maximal capacity
  5. Older athletes perform better and decline more slowly in longer races and longer, low-intensity training sessions as we age, at least in the age range 35-65 yo.

–> Maximal endurance capacity falls faster than submaximal capacity

Dr. Stephen Seiler contact info:

The ever curious athlete who demands answers.
About the Author
Curious athlete who demands answers. Husband to Susan ( Father of 3 daughters. Athletic pursuits over time, in reverse order: cycling, skiing, mountaineering, rock climbing, triathlon, golf, tennis, football.

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