Health Benefits of Being a Masters Athlete

Mug-shot-223x300Masters sport is booming. Training into older age has huge health benefits for both men and women. The limited research highlights that masters athletes suffer more achilles tendon and shoulder problems. However, the incidence hip problems and the risks of diabetes, blood pressure, chest pain, heart attacks and asthma are greatly reduced through regular training.

During the last three decades there has been an enormous increase in the number of older individuals engaging in regular exercise for the health benefits and sheer enjoyment of being involved in sport and exercise. For example, the inaugural World Masters Games held in Toronto, Canada in 1985 had 8,305 participants across 22 sports; the 2002 Melbourne, World Masters Games 24,886 participants across 26 sports, and the upcoming 2009 World Masters Games being held in Sydney, Australia is anticipating the biggest mass participation (28,292), multi-sport (28 sports), multi-national, festival in the world.

In one of the few studies to examine the health benefits of masters athletes, Canadian researchers examined the long-term health value of regular endurance training in 551 men and 199 women aged 40-81 years over a seven-year period. The results showed:

  • 1.4% suffered a non-fatal heart attack
  • 90% were interested in good health
  • 76% considered themselves less vulnerable to illness than their peers
  • 68% considered their quality of life better than their non-exercising friends
  • 37% of the smokers said training had helped them give up the addiction
  • 59% had regular check-ups
  • 88% said they slept well

A more recent 2006 study in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine followed 102 male Finnish veteran track and field athletes (average age 58.3 years) and 777 healthy non-athletes (average age 55.0 years) over a period of 16 years. The researchers examined the participants’ health and injury status over the period and compared the two groups. The masters athletes had significantly more shoulder and achilles tendon injuries. However, the athletes:

  • smoked less (3.6% compared to 25.2% in non-athletes)
  • had a lower BMI (24.1 compared to 26.4 in non-athletes)
  • less hip pain and disability compared to non-athletes
  • lower incidence of chronic disease, angina, heart attack, asthma, diabetes, medical treatment for blood pressure.

To further confirm that exercise and physical training into older age has huge health benefits, an American researcher, Frank Kasch, and his colleagues, followed two groups (one group was endurance-trained, the other did no exercise) of 15 older men over a period of 23 years. At the end of the period:

  • The exercisers had lost 3.4 kg, the non-exercisers gained 3.2 kg
  • The exercisers had a 15.9% body fat, the non-exercisers 25.7%
  • The exercisers had a resting pulse 10 beats lower than the non-exercisers
  • The exercisers had lower blood pressures the non-exercisers with 9 of the non-exercisers being diagnosed as hypertensive
  • The exerciser’s VO2max (aerobic capacity) had dropped 13% body fat, the non-exercisers by 41%
  • The exercisers had a maximum heart rate that was 20 beats/min higher than the non-exercisers

All the above results strongly suggest that a lifetime of physical training go a long way to maintaining a young biological age and fantastic health into older age. Stick with it guys, we are onto a new form of medicine – Exercise Medicine! May the movement keep growing! 🙂