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Why does the physical fitness tend to decline around the age of 30-35? It is obvious that many athletes(football, sprint etc.) tend to stagnate and 'lose' the physical fitness regarding speed, stamina and so on compared to their mid 20s.

Is it possible to reduce this effect or even push it years ahead?

  • Joe Friel has done some good blog posts on this. The short answer is that High-intensity training seems to reduce the loss of fitness. – Eric Gunnerson Aug 25 '14 at 4:32
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    I would caution that too much high intensity training for an "older" athlete is counter productive because it takes longer to recover between sessions. – rrirower Aug 25 '14 at 12:37
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The general consensus is that testosterone levels start to decline around age 30, with the average being about 1.5% per year. This is one possible reason.

Along with this, consider the likely life scenarios. In your 20's, especially for professional athletes, you are in the "hungry" phase, where you are trying for that next contract, pay raise, endorsement deal, etc. As you secure these, especially in the high profile, higher impact sports (basketball, football, hockey), many players tend to ease off a bit and focus more on their families and life outside of the sport.

If you look at the lower impact sports (baseball, cycling, golf, archery), many top competitors remain so for longer times, as their body doesn't have the wear and tear on it that other sports do.

Even if you are not a professional, those same life impacts (career and families) tend to negatively affect training and athletic achievement. However, this can be fended off by adhering to a regular training schedule. For example, in triathlon, often the most competitive age segments overall are the 35-39 and 40-45 age groups.

Also somewhat disputing the age=testosterone reduction theory is a preliminary study (As far as I know it has not been peer reviewed/published yet) done in Australia with older, self identified good health participants that shows no reduction in testosterone with age for healthy, non obese individuals.

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Physical fitness tends to decline in "normal" people because normal people are not trained athletes.

If you look at professional athletes however, you'll note some big differences. Most winners of the Tour de France (racing nearly every day for a month straight) are in their 30's. Numerous power lifting athletes have continued to pull gold medals into their 40's (drug tested ones included).

Other sports, notably the NFL, have an average age of ~26 because the abuse the players suffer is not sustainable long term for most people. It's simply too easy to sustain career ending injuries.

Obviously age has certain problems: reduced growth hormone, increased time on earth to sustain injuries, and usually a more sedentary life. But that's very much talking in averages. If you are 25 and have been seriously training since 20, you will likely get clobbered by someone 35 who's also been training since 20 (all other variables being equal).

Anecdotaly I hear plenty of locker-room talk from some of the younger guys talking about trashed shoulders and tweaked knees, because they lack long term training experience and are trying to push weight that they are years away from doing safely.

a couple of references: http://bloggingthebeast.com/2012/09/01/ranking-the-nfl-teams-by-age-rams-and-eagles-have-the-two-youngest-teams-in-the-nfl-chargers-are-the-oldest/

http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2012/jul/23/tour-de-france-winner-list-garin-wiggins

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