The idea that getting weak and frail is primarily the inevitable consequence of aging is just wrong. Simply raising peoples’ expectations of what is really normal allows them to compete with their own possibilities, as opposed to being limited by averages and the bullying of conventional wisdom. It is not only possible, but indeed most people should be stronger at age 50 than they were at age 20.
We need a new way of looking at aging and what we accept as normal. There are certainly enough exceptions to the current world view that people are doomed to a helpless downhill slide to infirmity starting when they are thirty. However, when enough anomalies, or exceptions to the conventional “wisdom” are recognized, the resulting new perspective is what scientists call a paradigm shift.
Remember Jack LaLanne? Jack was still doing his workouts and going strong at age 96 when he died last January.
The point is that people like Jack LaLanne are not some kind of half-crazy fitness nuts that other people shouldn’t even bother trying to relate to. To the contrary, almost everyone can be stronger and have more energy than they did when they were much younger. How strong? Take a look at this chart which is generated from a formula that’s used to handicap power lifters based on age groups:
The chart shows a hypothetical “Bob” who weighs 190 pounds and is a decent, but not spectacular competitive lifter. Since power lifting organizations generally start handicapping lifters for inter-weight class comparisons after age 40, this chart assumes that Bob lifted a total of 1600 pounds before he turned 40. His 1516.61 pound total at age 45 would be considered equivalent to that earlier 1600.
The point I want to make with this chart is that when you compare age groups consisting of people who are “really trying” and who therefore collectively reflect the strength potential of that age group, the actual age related drop off in ultimate performance is not as great as most people would suspect. For instance, the average expected drop off in performance of 45-year-old lifters is only 5.5% when compared to lifters 40 and younger. You have to go all the way to age 80 before you would expect the 80-year-old of the same size would be only half as strong as his younger-than-forty self. Given that the difference in strength between a trained individual and the same person who has never trained is easily a factor of two or more, our hypothetical 80-year-old could be expected to be just as strong as an untrained 20, or 30, or 40-year-old.
Runners are another group of fitness enthusiasts where there has been a lot of study comparing different age groups. Take a look at this article in the New York Times. Quoting a paragraph in that Times article: A few years ago researchers at the German Sports University Cologne took a close look at the finishing times of 400,000 marathon and half-marathon runners between the ages of 20 and 79. They found no relevant differences in the finishing times of people between the ages of 20 and 50. The times for runners between 50 and 69 slowed only by 2.6 to 4.4 percent per decade. “Older athletes are able to maintain a high degree of physiological plasticity late into life.” Why is it so important that you honestly believe that regardless of age you can be twice as strong as you would be if you did not train at all? Why is it important to know that well into your fifties you can be stronger than when you were a high school, and even college athlete? Aside from the well documented benefits of strength training by organizations such as The American Heart Association, believing in your real potential allows for an unlimited progression of achievable goals. I believe that these goals are essential to the unending enthusiasm necessary to a lifetime of fitness.