The question of “How old are you?” is one that we encounter frequently in various contexts such as job applications, dating websites or simply when meeting new people. While younger individuals may have no qualms about answering this question, those of us who are over 40 may sometimes feel hesitant. This is because aging is commonly associated with being passed your physical prime.
However, exercise scientists are increasingly of the opinion that one’s birthdate is not necessarily indicative of their body’s true age. Regular exercise and a healthy diet can help people attain peak fitness later in life and remain ‘younger’ for a longer time. In fact, these experts argue that an individual’s body age may be higher or lower than what we would expect based on their chronological age.
The Fitness Tribe, an online community of wellness enthusiasts, sought to determine how our fitness ages differ across the country. They commissioned a survey of 3,000 adults, carried out by QuestionPro, to find out at what they consider to be their peak fitness age, with some interesting results …
While opinions vary, it is commonly accepted that the peak fitness ages for men and women falls between the ages of 20 and 35. Interestingly, it was found that the average fitness peak in California is 33 years old (compared to a national average of 34), considered relatively advanced when it comes to peak athletic performance.
The research found that North Dakotans reach their peak fitness levels latest in life, at the ripe age of 43. Comparatively, those in Wyoming say they hit their biological peak at the tender age of 21.
Respondents were also quizzed on their exercise habits, with promising figures. For example, 58 percent said that when they do cardio training, they push themselves to the limit. Cardio exercise has been shown to have anti-aging effects at the cellular level. Research has found that regular cardio training can increase the length of telomeres, which are the protective caps on the end of chromosomes that shorten as we age. Longer telomeres are associated with a lower biological age and a reduced risk of age-related diseases.
The survey also found that on average, 40 percent of training is devoted to cardio work, 33 percent to stretching (such as yoga) and 27 percent to building muscle. Weight training, or strength training, is important for aging because it can help to counteract the loss of muscle mass and strength that naturally occurs as we age, a condition known as sarcopenia. Sarcopenia can lead to decreased physical function, an increased risk of falls and fractures, and a lower quality of life. In addition, weight training has been shown to have numerous other benefits for aging individuals. It can help to increase metabolism, which can help to maintain a healthy body weight and reduce the risk of obesity and related health conditions.
Encouragingly, 32 percent of respondents said they work out simply because they enjoy doing so. After all, enjoying a tough uphill climb on your bike can shift your attention away from the discomfort or fatigue you are experiencing at the time. One-in-four said they train only for the health benefits, and 43 percent said they do so for both reasons.
And broadly corresponding with the peak fitness survey results, the majority of California respondents said they feel younger than their actual (chronological) age.
Finally, respondents were asked a hypothetical question: If it guaranteed a year more of life, would you run a marathon? And 58 percent answered… yes!
“Regular exercise and a healthy lifestyle can help individuals maintain their physical and mental well-being, improve longevity, and reduce the risk of age-related diseases, which can lead to a lower biological age and an improved quality of life as we age” said Chris Higgins, editor at The Fitness Tribe, and NASM certified personal trainer.