normal vs. nimble

The science of ‘nimble’

„Life is Movement“ (Aristotle, 4th century BC)

Ageing is an inevitable process in all biological systems characterised by loss of function and ultimately death. While average lifespan has increased, health span has not. Over one third of adults in western countries suffer from age-related disability and loss of independence in later years of life. Accordingly, scientists have examined ways to slow or reverse the decline from vitality to frailty and disability. Physical activity (being nimble) seems to be the key to pressing the pause and even the rewind button.

The link between inactivity, disease, accelerated ageing and frailty is unquestionable and explains much of how average ageing is. In contrast, the study of people that maintain high levels of lifelong activity shows how ageing could be. Masters athletes are such people.

The figure below shows that, compared to the extended period of declining health in average-sedentary people, masters athletes enjoy extended health span and compressed and rapid decline to death – the so-called ‘long-healthy life and quick death’.

The increased health span of athletes
The increased health span of athletes
Frailty threshold in comparison
Frailty threshold in comparison

The extended health span is characterised by a remarkable maintenance of performance and the strength and endurance that underpins it. Studies shows that an 80 year old masters athlete can match or surpass the strength and endurance of a sedentary person 30 years younger. This is the potency of becoming and staying physically active.

Making regular physical activity a habit provides an impressive maintenance of function and extends the number of ‘healthy’ years in later life. The potency of regular physical activity confers many other benefits too which will be explored in future posts in this blog series. It’s never too late to get nimble and a nimble human is a healthy human.

Author

Mick Wilkinson PhD, MSc, BA (Hons)
Northumbria University, Newcastle, England
Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science & Department Ethics Lead

References

Booth, F.W. and Zvetsloot, K.A. (2009). Basic concepts about genes, inactivity and ageing. Scandinavian Journal of Science and Medicine in Sports, 20, 1-4. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2009.00972.x.

Lazarus, N.R. and Harridge, S.D.R. (2007). Inherent ageing in humans: The case for studying master athletes: Editorial. Scandinavian Journal of Science and Medicine in Sports, 17, 461-463. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2007.00726.x

Wright, V.J. and Perricelli, B.C. (2008). Age-related rates of decline in performance among elite senior athletes. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 36, 443-450.

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