Links between Age and Exercise Performance (Cycling, Running & Swimming)

This week I came across two interesting articles on the correlation between exercise, performance and age.  The first article is on how fast performance deteriorates with age and is written by expert coach (and authority!) Joe Friel with great commentary on scientific studies.  But a picture is worth more than a thousand words, so here are the three key graphs for cycling, running, and swimming.

The graphs show the completion time for a certain record (on the vertical axis) in a discipline depending on the age (on the horizontal axis) of the record holder:

How much slower do we ride as we age?

How much slower do we ride as we age?

How much slower do we run as we age?

How much slower do we run as we age?

How much slower do we swim as we age?

How much slower do we swim as we age?

Interestingly, the deterioration (the slope of the curve) in cycling seems rather linear, while it is super-linear for running and swimming (as we get older the deterioration accelerates).  Two remarks:

  1. Notice that the cycling data stops at age 60, while the other two go to age 90, so the same accelerating deterioration could happen to cyclists.  But I have anecdotal evidence to hope that linearity extends beyond 60: I have good friends in their sixties who still cycle very fast = GOOD NEWS!
  2. Notice that this data is about the “frontier” of best performance (by record holders): this does not imply that those of us below the frontier cannot still improve as we age from, say, 47 to 50…  (I love the concept of the frontier and, sneaking in some marketing, use it often in my operations strategy book and class.)

The second good news comes from France: “La belle longévité des coureurs du Tour de France” finds that (French pro) cyclists (that have raced the Tour de France) on average live 6.3 years longer than the rest of the population.  And I share the hopes of my friend Gerry:

What this means is hard to say and, like the article points out, is only focusing on one aspect of a person’s life (being a TdF rider) and not, for example, their socio-economic reality, etc.

But I will take this as positive news and I am hoping that my 20,000 meters of climbing in Haute Route counts for at least a few extra weeks above ground.

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7 Responses to Links between Age and Exercise Performance (Cycling, Running & Swimming)

  1. Ken Cahill says:

    Yes but, do the cyclists live 6.3 years longer due to cycling or do they live 6.3 years longer because they are who they are AND became involved in cycling..da..Thus, would they have lived 6.3 years longer if they were simmers or runners or. Whatever

    Sent with all good intentions; if that didn’t happen, it’s not my fault

  2. The charts from the Friel blog entry are interesting. I think the relative steeper decline in women’s performance in the marathon could be related to generational and attrition issues, no? Women were not exactly encouraged to run marathons… Kathrine Switzer was the first women to enter one “officially” in 1967 and the first women’s Olympic marathon was on 1984. It would be cool to seen longitudinal data, the type that prompted Friel’s entry (his FTP diminishing).

  3. And I am still intrigued by a comment you posted in a previous blog entry, about heart rates going down as a stage race progresses. What causes that? I did a quick google search, but could not find anything relevant.

    • People said “adaptation”, but not clear to what: to contiguous days of overexertion? (I don’t think it has to do with altitude: while our highest finish was 2800m, the others were around 2000m and we slept below 2000m…) The heart just doesn’t want to pump as much anymore?
      I really don’t know but the phenomenon was clear (statistically significant) and significant (i.e., on the order of 10 or more bpm drop).

  4. suzecycling says:

    As for me, I can’t see that living any longer by itself is particularly useful, so cycling longevity will need to accompany it, if longevity is a goal. Perhaps there is a loss of speed and a gain in endurance. Happy thought.

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