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Longitudinal trends in master track and field performance throughout the aging process: 83,209 results from Sweden in 16 athletics disciplines

Ganse, B and Kleerekoper, A and Knobe, M and Hildebrand, F and Degens, H (2020) Longitudinal trends in master track and field performance throughout the aging process: 83,209 results from Sweden in 16 athletics disciplines. GeroScience. ISSN 2509-2715

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Abstract

© 2020, The Author(s). In the research of age-related performance declines, the value of cross-sectional versus longitudinal data is an ongoing debate. This paper analyses the largest longitudinal master track and field data set ever published to compare the age-related decline in performance between 16 athletics disciplines in cross-sectional and longitudinal data. The data set contained 83,209 results (64,948 from men, 78.1%; 18,261 from women, 21.9%) from 34,132 athletes (26,186 men, 76.7%; 7946 women, 23.3%), aged 35–97 years. In 61 athletes, 20 or more, and in 312 athletes, 15 or more results were available. The data were analyzed by regression statistics/ANCOVA. Men had a higher performance than women, irrespective of discipline in both cross-sectional and longitudinal data (p < 0.001). The performance in cross-sectional data was lower compared with the longitudinal data in all events and at any age (p ≤ 0.007) except for 1000 m men. The average age was lower in the cross-sectional than the longitudinal data (p < 0.001); men 46 and 58 years, women 44 and 56 years, respectively. The annual percentage rate of decline did not differ significantly between cross-sectional and longitudinal data, or between sexes in most disciplines. Performance declines after age 70 were 1.7 times (men) and 1.4 times (women) as steep as before. In conclusion, although longitudinal master athletics data of athletes with 10 and more results has higher average performance and age compared with cross-sectional data, cross-sectional data give a good impression of the annual percentage decline in performance, which was similar in men and women.

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