Power or endurance? It doesn’t matter, research suggests

Ageing activity study shows no one of type exercise is better

Ageing activity study shows no one of type exercise is better

Ageing activity study shows no one of type exercise is better

No one type of exercise is more beneficial than any other to maintain physical performance as we age, according to new research at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Whether you can sprint the fastest or run a marathon, the body’s systems seem to decline uniformly together with age, even when exercising at a high level.

While no one type of exercise – power or endurance – is better than the other, it remains hugely beneficial to maintain physical activity as we age.

Researchers from the Department of Life Sciences at Manchester Metropolitan University tested a group of 37 to 90-year-old male and female master athletes, who maintain high levels of physical activity with advancing age, to see if endurance or power training may differ in the extent to which these physical functions decline.  

The results, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, found that no matter which type of athlete they were, performance decreased by around 7-14% per decade in male and female athletes.

Age-related changes

Dr Liam Bagley, lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan and lead researcher, said: “It’s inevitable that our performance will decline with age, but it remained unknown whether the characteristics that determine power performance, such as muscle strength, decline with ageing at different rates from those that determine endurance performance, such as high cardiovascular fitness.

“The results suggest age-related changes in the neuromuscular system – nerves and muscles working together to move the way you want to – and the cardiopulmonary system  – carrying oxygen around the body – progress at similar rates, regardless of power or endurance competitive specialisations.”

Participants were grouped into endurance and power disciplines by their primary competitive events. Those who competed in running events over 800 metres were classed as endurance athletes and runners who competed under 400 metres or throwers were classed as power athletes.

Anaerobic power was assessed by performing a two-legged jump and aerobic power was determined using a fixed cycling machine.

Keeping active

Dr Bagley said: “Throughout the life span, the anaerobic power is larger in power athletes and aerobic power larger in endurance athletes, but these results suggest that there is an inherent ageing process that cannot be delayed, and other literature suggests that this does not differ to non-athletes either.

“However, it is important to remember that while our performance declines it’s still so important to keep physically active in some way.

“It is widely acknowledged that regular exercise is an effective way to combat or slow down the declines in physical function that occur with advancing age, such as our ability to run and jump and just do everyday life activities like shopping. Those that have higher levels of physical activity will find these activities easier, potentially have a longer lifespan, lower hospitalisation and better quality of life in comparison to sedentary people of the same age.”

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