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Older Athletes, Lower Fitness Age


Is there a way to turn back the clock on your age? A new study says yes. Exercise can make you younger. At least it can lower your fitness age — that is the measure of how well your body works.

A study of athletes in the National Senior Games found that their fitness age was more than 20 years younger than their chronological age. The games took place in the Midwestern state of Minnesota.

Tony Diamond participated in the games. Every morning he goes to a local park and walks fast for an hour. Then, the retired navy captain runs for an hour.

Two or three times a week, he goes to a gym for muscle training. Mr. Diamond won three medals at the 2015 National Senior Games, in the road race and the race walk for his age group -- 85 to 89.

“My current age is 86 years old, and my fitness age is 44. “I think I have such a good number because I did a lot of exercise during my life. I have been exercising since I was a little boy.”

Helen White is a basketball player. She also teaches the sport to senior groups. And she plays pickleball. Pickleball uses a raquet and is part badminton, tennis and table tennis. She won a silver medal in pickleball at the 2013 National Senior Games.

“I’m 62 years old and my fitness results showed that I was 32 years.”

Ms. White and Mr. Diamond are some of the 5,000 Senior Games participants who took part in the fitness age study.

Pamela Peeke is an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland. She worked on the study with Ulrik Wisloff at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Mr. Wisloff developed a fitness calculator.

Ms. Peeke explains how it works.

“You simply input very straightforward data. We ask you questions: your age, your height, your weight, how much you work out, your waist size, heart rate, blood pressure, and it goes on. And then you press a button, you find out what your actual fitness age is.”

An online calculator is available for anyone to use for free. Ms. Peeke says there are benefits from using this test.

“This kind of testing, an assessment of fitness age was actually very valid and it helps us understand the benefits of being fit and healthy.”

The National Senior Games take place every two years. It is a competition for athletes older than 50. The games are a variety of sports, from track and field to triathlon.

This year the average age of the people competing was 68. But their average fitness age was 43.

Ms. Peeke is a member of the board of the organization that runs the games. She says that many of the competitors did not start training until later in life, like Helen White.

“It really wasn’t until I turned 50 that I decided to become much more serious and focused about play and just make sure it is daily part of my life.”

Pamela Peeke says anyone can lower their fitness age.

"It doesn’t matter how old you are -- 20, 25, 30, who cares. All of us can lower our fitness age by staying right on top of it, by taking good care of ourselves, especially with physical activity."

She says, it is never too early -- or too late -- to start exercising and receiving its benefits.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

June Soh reported this story. Anne Ball adapted it it for VOA Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

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Words in This Story

turn back the clock – phrase; go back in time

participant(s) – n; a person who is involved in an activity

chronological –adj; using time as a measure

pickleball –n; a game played with solid wooden racquets and a ball that is hit over a net.

benefit (s) –n; a good or helpful effect

triathlon –n; a long distance race that has three parts, biking, swimming and running

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