Why do Athletes Get Worse with Age?

It has become somewhat of a given in the sports world that athletes just seem to get worse with age, proving itself over and over again to be true, with very few exceptions adding to what has become an athletes’ world law. If those very few athletes, who seemingly effectively defy the ‘laws of nature’, can go on and perform at the highest level, into their 40’s and 50’s, surely there must be something they’re doing right to improve their performances and prolong their careers.

The common myth of age-specific performance tied to genetics is one of the many explanations all those concerned with and involved in the sporting world frequently cite, but the Somax Performance Institute has uncovered a better explanation for age-induced deteriorating performance, and it is muscular in nature.

There is no doubt about the fact that performance does tend to deteriorate with age, a phenomenon which has become a mainstay within the sporting circles, making its way right into the heart of team management and planning considerations, as well as the sensitive issue of big money contracts. Depending on the specific sporting code, professional athletes who reach a certain age aren’t given long-term contracts anymore and are seen as more of a risk than a marquee roster-signing.

In the world of soccer particularly, players over the age of 30 are considered to be in the twilight stages of their careers, with some rather unfortunate but true commentary including statements like “If only he had the legs of 24-year-old”, or “he’s not quite as quick as he used to be/he’s lost a yard of pace in the last decade”.

This performance drop with age exists across all sporting codes though, with baseball players dropping in their fastball, basketball players surrendering their free-throw percentage, the longest drive of golfers shrinking in conjunction with a drop in their putting average, runners losing pace and even tennis players losing a bit of bite in their serve. The problem makes its way even to sporting codes like swimming, where once elite swimmers seemingly just can’t hit the heights they easily managed in their younger years.

Of all the effects of age in athletes, however, probably the most cause for concern is perceived injury risk. Injury proneness is one of the major causes of performance deterioration, as athletes age, which is essentially where all the misconceptions come in, with regards to the root cause.

It is widely believed that older athletes are more injury prone because of a loss of strength as one age and that is combined with other factors like loss of flexibility and longer muscle recovery times — all of which are factors directly linked with age.

While age-related factors such as diminished strength, flexibility, and prolonged muscle recovery times are commonly associated with an increased risk of injuries in athletes, it’s essential to recognize that these concerns extend beyond musculoskeletal issues. The impact of aging on athletes encompasses a spectrum of health considerations, including brain injuries, stroke, blood vessel damage, and eye abnormalities, all contributing to the perceived injury risk.

Brain injuries, which can be detected using extremity MRI in Denville, NJ (or in other locations), can become a heightened concern with age, as the brain may experience structural changes and a reduced capacity to withstand trauma. Older athletes may be more vulnerable to concussions and related complications, necessitating thorough evaluation and precautionary measures.

The risk of stroke tends to rise with age, and athletes are not exempt. Factors like reduced vascular elasticity and the potential for blood clot formation can elevate the likelihood of stroke, emphasizing the need for comprehensive health monitoring.

Aging can also impact blood vessels, leading to damage and increased susceptibility to cardiovascular issues. Athletes must manage factors like blood pressure and cholesterol levels to mitigate the risk of vessel-related complications.

Eye abnormalities, including degenerative conditions like macular degeneration or cataracts, may affect older athletes, influencing their visual acuity and overall performance. Regular eye examinations become crucial to identify and address potential concerns.

Addressing these broader health considerations underscores the importance of a holistic approach to athlete well-being as they age. Beyond focusing solely on musculoskeletal aspects, comprehensive health assessments, preventive measures, and tailored training regimens can help athletes navigate the challenges associated with aging and sustain their athletic pursuits with a minimized risk of injuries and health complications.

Professional athletes of this and the Millennial generation are more likely to develop a healthy gaming habit to mirror what they do on the field, whereas previous generations only really seem to interestingly get into gaming as their professional careers draw to a close. That probably says a lot about the general approach to careers and finances among the different generations.