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Performance declines are accelerated in the oldest-old track and field athletes 80 to 94 years of age.

Ganse, Bergita and Drey, Michael and Hildebrand, Frank and Knobe, Matthias and Degens, Hans (2020) Performance declines are accelerated in the oldest-old track and field athletes 80 to 94 years of age. Rejuvenation Research. ISSN 1549-1684

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Abstract

Physical performance declines with age, even in exercising, healthy individuals without major illnesses or orthopaedic issues. The rate of performance decline is often reported to accelerate after the age of 70 years, but almost no data are available on performance in the fittest oldest-old. To assess their rate of decline in performance, the biggest dataset of track and field athletes ≥80 years (1567 results) ever published was generated for different disciplines from German athletics Federations including 1997-2019. Performance at age 80 of athletes still participating at age 85 was compared to those who discontinued. Only one out of every 22 athletes competing at age 80 still competed at age 90. The performance decline was more than three times as steep in athletes ≥80 (on average 1.62%/year, men: 100m R=0.31, p<0.001; 200m R=0.17, p=0.037; long jump R=-0,37, p<0.001; shot put R=-0.32, p<0.001; discus R=-0.34, p<0.001; javelin R=-0.43, p<0.001; women: shot put R=-0.24, p=0.017; discus R=-0.33, p=0.010) compared to athletes 30-69 years (0.46%/year), and accelerated at an average of 67 years. This accelerated decline was most pronounced in the sprint disciplines and lowest in the throws. Performance at age 80 was similar in athletes still participating at age 85 to those who discontinued, and the variability in results was decreased after age 90. In conclusion, physical performance declines more than three times as fast after around the age of 67 years compared to before. This was particularly the case for sprinting, but was not a result of dropout of poorer performing athletes.

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