Effects of aging in Masters swimmers: 40-year review and suggestions for optimal health benefits
Robert T Rubin1,2, Richard H Rahe3
1Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles, CA, USA; 2UCLA Bruin Masters Swim Club, CA, USA; 3Department of Psychiatry, Portland VA Hospital Community-Based Outpatient Center, Salem, OR, USA
Abstract: The Masters Swimming Program is over 40 years old and has achieved international status, with thousands of participants competing in five-year age categories between 18 and 99. Early studies of Masters swimmers by age groups found an increase in times for most events of about 1% per year, and later studies showed a significant correlation with the age-associated decline in maximal oxygen uptake. As larger sample sizes have become available, the age-related decline in performance among national champion Masters swimmers, both men and women, and for both short and longer swims, has been shown to be linear at about 0.6% per year up to age 70. Beyond age 70, the age-related decline accelerates exponentially for both men and women, with considerably more variability than in younger age groups. Several factors may be related to the accelerated performance decline beyond the of age 70, including accelerated physiological aging, chronic physical disabilities, acute illnesses requiring relatively lengthy recovery, effects of multiple medications, and social issues such as transportation problems, all of which can lead to increasing difficulty in maintaining a regular workout schedule. Masters Swimming is a “user-friendly” aerobic sport, imposing little excess strain, and thus is particularly suitable for the elderly. Masters coaches are gaining increasing experience with the over-70 age groups, tailoring workouts to accommodate their need for longer warm-up periods, longer rest periods between swimming sets, less overall distance, less emphasis on “breath control”, and more time between workouts. With these accommodations, the motivation of elderly Masters swimmers to compete remains strong, and their ranks should continue to increase.
Keywords: masters swimming, aging, physiological functional capacity
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