T Nation

Is It Age or Is It Inactivity?


Yesterday I had my first outdoor soccer game of the season and... well... let's just say my squad didn't exactly put on a clinic of soccer excellence. After the game we all go for some sushi lunch and shoot the breeze about the match.

Our team is about 5-8 25 year olds, 5 or 6 30ish and a few late 30's players. So, one of the people in their 30's comments on their conditioning/speed and how "Well, this is just what happens when age catches up with you."

I really do not have any scientific evidence to back me up on this, but part of me wonders how true that really is. When you hit your late 20's and early 30's, you are out of school and working full-time. For a lot of people, that means being some sort of desk jockey in comparison to being in college or grad school where you are a lot more active, not sitting in one spot for extended periods of time and have a more flexible schedule than the 9-5/8-6'er.

So here's what I was hoping to get some thoughts from others on. Do you think:
1) Many people end up suffering some kind of diminished athletic performance due to the aging process; or

2) That spending the bulk of your day in a fairly inactive state at work takes a big toll on your performance (I am thinking more along the lines of sports) even when you are pretty diligent in your workouts or hitting the gym?

I am thinking that while age certainly plays a role, that a working lifestyle (especially one in an office environment) takes a huge toll. In my mind, way too many people use age as a really convenient excuse for why they are doing x, y or z worse than they used to. I often wonder that if I was as active consistently throughout the day as I was in law school, what would my general athletic performance be like these days.

Any thoughts?



Age can affect joints and possibly even response time. Aside from that, I would relate most complaints of decreased performance to lack of activity. In college, I remember walking nearly a mile in a rush just to make it to class on time in a building across campus. This was a regular occurance. Every class must have been purposefully mapped out with the goal of making you a cross trainer. Add onto that extra curricular activities and attempting to get phone numbers at the same time from passing co-eds and you get a shit load of exercise from just trying to live day to day.

The majority of my training now is directly because of my own goals in the gym (even though we often get more in the military). I can see how sedentary people end up gaining over 20lbs a year after they get married. If you just sit on your ass all day...and then go home and sit on your ass all night...and then go to sleep, you are setting yourself up for "fat ass" status. I have seen some of the guys that used to play football in school and they are blimps now. Not the cool blimps with Goodyear written on the side and a shiny outer coating, but really bloated slow blimps that don't even get off the ground anymore.


I'm thinking that joints suffer due to years of disuse while people sit on their asses in an office environment.

So, while this correlates with age, I don't think age is always the direct causative factor.

Of course, on the flip side, overuse and heavy repeated stress can also end up leading to such problems.

Anyway, notwithstanding my theory that we bring about our own early degeneration via inactivity, I think the lack of routine exercise is what brings the performance level down so much.

With it you have no motor skills practice. No aerobic conditioning. No strength or resistance training to maintain muscle mass. No reason for the body to expend energy to maintain these systems in a state of readiness.


One problem is we really don't have a very large pool of elderly people who trained all of their lives consistently to look at and determine what is directly age related and what comes from lack of activity. So little importance has been placed on lifting weights and regular REAL exercise in the past that this current generation hitting middle age may be the first time we see what the difference is.


It all depends and I don't think there can be one definitive answer. I just think that age does play a part, but so does inactivity. Joints/pain can slow a person down no matter what their age...or age can slow a person down no matter what kind of shape they're in.


That's a very good point I really had not thought of. The people I can think ofe who are "older" and trained consistently over their lives are people like Jack Lalanne or Clarence Bass (who are obviously big exceptions to the rule).

But overall, I definitely feel like the little physical nits and nats I have seem to be linked more to being an office worker more than other factors (although not dismissing those other factors entirely). For instance, I think a lot of my lower back issues are connected to being seated at my desk the bulk of the day. That was not really the cause of any problems, but I think that certainly tends to exacerbate the problem.


I am equally interested in what role hormone replacement will take in longetivity and health, esp. in joints/tendons in addition to life long training. Now that it is less of a taboo subject, and some docs are willing to research/prescibe hrt. (showing my age here)

There is definitely research showing aging effects of tendons/joints/bones/muscle even in athletes. Just rotator cuff alone, one study by BJ Brewer AJ of Sports Med - "The comparison related to chronological age documented a progressive degeneration of all elements of the tendinous structures with progressive (1) osteitis of the greater tuberosity, cystic degeneration, and irregularity of the cortical margin; (2) degenerative sulcus between the greater tuberosity and the articular surface; (3) disruption of the integrity of the attachment of the tendon to the bone by Sharpey's fibers; (4) loss of cellularity, loss of staining quality, and fragmentation of the tendon; (5) diminution of the vascularity of the tendon; and (6) diminution of fibrocartilage.

Exercise has been shown to decrease bone demineralization, increase flexability joints, and reduce but not eliminate some of the aging effects; though no one has looked at a group that exercises all life with weights versus not. I would agree, exercise is one of the best "fountains of youth".

Age, hormonal decline (especially test and IGF-1), and lack of use all induce atrophy of joints, tendons, muscle. HGH could be cheaper. Testosterone replacement could be better in finding something like a SHBG inhibitor that increases free test without too much feedback inhibition or increased estrogen.

I would like to compare life long lifters with hormonal replacement when necessary to maintain 30 yr old levels all life compared to sedentary individuals. Cant imagine the health care savings.


I think its definately inactivity up to a certain point. Professional athletes can perform at a peak into their late 30's, maybe later. I think someone with a consistent activity level and less wear and tear than the pro's go through can stay at a relatively consistent level into their 40's fairly easily.

I think activity is a huge key to recovery, which is the main complaint people always seem to give about aging. In college, I ran track. 6 days out of every week consisted of biking miles around campus, a running workout, and a weighttraining workout. That was basically the equivalent of three of my current workouts all rolled into one day. I wouldn't stay sore for more than a day after a hard workout because I was doing something the very next day.

Pretty much immediately after college, I noticed that if I didn't do something active the day after a hard workout, I would be sore for 2-3 days. I don't think I aged significantly between my graduation age of 21 and my first year of the working world at 22.

I also noticed that if I play a sport once a week, like soccer or basketball, my legs feel like crap for a while after each game. But if I just upped that number to playing twice a week, I felt much better after each game. Just the more regular conditioning garnered from playing twice a week, in addition to my workouts, dramatically sped up my recovery.

That recovery phenomenom has pretty much stayed the same for me for my almost-10 years after college. Sure, some of you may be thinking I'm still young at 30, but I'm surrounded by all my friends who started slowing down and complaining about their aging, aching muscles and joints years ago. I always point out to them "hey, remember how you used to play basketball 4 times a week in college? And notice now how you play once every two weeks? Think that may have something to do with it?" This is all why I belive that the main problem is inactivity. I definately think that after a certain time, your response time, fast twitch musculature and connective tissue pliability will inevitably decrease, but I think that point can be well beyond where most people start experiencing it due to their inactivity.

On a related note, if you ever want to see how our predominantly lazy lifestyle (drive to work, sit at a desk, drive home, lay on the couch, eat, rest, repeat) affects our health, go live in a city in Europe or the Northeast and give up your car. It's amazing how much just simply walking to everything everyday can make a difference in your fitness.


It will certainly be interesting to see how the dedicated T-Nation member ages. We have an above average understanding of nutrition, training, and supplementation. This knowledge is also put into practice daily. Personally, I'll be turning 35 this year and I'm in the best shape of my life. Will things start to go down hill over the next 10 years? All I can say is that I'm 100% committed to being in better shape then than now.


I just read the part about which ages you were referring to. Up until near 40, I would agree its disuse and not aging. I am just turning 40, and am in just as good strength and cardiovascular shape as ever. Only thing I have noticed, and that was just last 1-2 years, is I have to be much more careful warming up, as I injure more easily (pulled muscle, rotator cuff, etc.), and heal little more slowly. I can still put on muscle, though maybe not as quickly. Most of my friends are in early 40's, and just as active, weightlifting, bike racing, watersports.

My one friend of 52 only complaint was of nagging aches pains, which went away after returning his hormones to earlier age (yes I know I need to return to 35 and over group).


Kuz,I love this topic. From my own experience where fitness is the primary goal, I have found that I can be stronger and flexible than in my twenties. I'm in my thirties and have had to work hard to maintain and improve so I don't find age as a deterring factor but if we're talking elite athletes then that's another story. Basically, genetics and hard work plays a big role in athletics but speed and power decreases a little with age.
Let me tell you about this 5 mile race where 40's and 50's runners were participating. These people have been running most of their lives and still have incredible speed and strength with their finishing times. Because of them and other older athletes, I have hope and continue to strive to improve in my sports, no matter what age.


Stanley Matthews was still playing soccer in English First Division (as it was then) at 55.



I couldn't read anymore


I've read more than one old guy say that you should do some type of training/activity almost everyday.

Anyone remember Gordie Howe?


I believe inactivity is the biggest problem with an ageing population. Everytime I see an elderly person (over 70) who is both mentally and physically "with it", it is because they are both physically and mentally active.

I was at a local fair about 4 weeks ago and they had a woodchop event. Lots of big, bad men wearing singlets including a 74 year old who competes every year. 4 words describe him perfectly - Big old hard bastard.

Kuz, I would bet that if you asked everyone of those guys who put being out of shape down to old, what they did over the season break, everyone of them sat on their ass and did no off season training.

Like anything - use it or lose it.


yep i share your thinking in everything.. you lose what you don't use.
So if you want to be better on the soccer field you should begin to organize yourself for being in that way, organizing properly your workouts by understanding which are the more important capacities involved in your sport and focusing properly on them in the conditioning and performance program


why bro? you don't like soccer, sushi or both? or maybe them together?...however soccer here in italy is very popular but i think that our trainers should learn from the american ones regarding physical preparation, because they are making a lot of mistakes, focusing on the wrong capacities..maybe they are unable to analyze the sport in itself.. i think that Usa soccer teams could become very powerful if some good individuality should come out

regarding sushi...i don t like to eat it too, but i should say that it is the best way to eat salmon in order to take advantage of the omega 3 efa


I agree with the general trend being put forward here - it's disuse more than age. Getting older does change things, but only in relation to yourself. I don't move as fast as I used to. However, I can't look back and say "I was 100% perfectly conditioned then" so to me that means I can compensate a hell of a lot for what little age takes out of me. Maybe that'll change at 60 but I hope not.

I am constantly amazed at how early people use the age excuse and what they use it for. 25-year-olds grunting, 26 year-olds saying they really can't do sports or stuff like that any more because they're not young enough for it. It makes me sick and what's worse, it cuts down the options for people like me who want to continue sports. I think if you're in a league (which happened me) where everyone else is 17-19 and playing for the local high schools, you're going to feel like you're missing a step. But see a 29-year-old male waddling and calling it sprinting and your viewpoint will change.

Dan John wrote an article a short while back about the advantages of being a more mature athlete. It's all good. And nowhere does it say "Oh, but you'll probably suck donkey balls because you're over 19".

Besides, blaming it on age doesn't leave you with much options, does it? I'd rather assume it's disuse so I can do something about it.


A good book to read on the topic is "The 10 Biomarkers Of Aging." One of the points of the author is that as we age we take on more responsibility and thus spend less time doing the things which got us into condition in the first place.

At the age of 49 I honestly do not see a difference in my performance. I have kept a journal for the past 25 years and I have well surpassed all of my poundages and running times etc. However, I have been very, very consistent in my training and nutrition. In fact, it has been almost a perfect running scenario.

I will note one change that has taken place over the past five years or so. Injuries do not heal quite as fast. I have tried to combat this with massage and using ice and heat more effectively. This has helped a great deal.


LOL Yeah, I thought that might throw a few people off. I'm not exactly your prototype soccer player at 5' 7" 188-190 lbs. If I JUST wanted to be all about soccer, I would probably weigh about 25-30 lbs less... no thanks.