The Secret to Athletic Longevity Is Surprisingly Simple


When my father turned 40, his associates threw him a funeral-themed birthday celebration, full with black balloons, flowers, and a type of tacky portraits on a tripod.


There was a time when turning 40 felt like having 1 foot within the grave, significantly for those who had been an athlete. Depending on the game, athletes typically peak earlier than 30. At 40, your greatest days on the sphere needs to be effectively behind you. But right this moment, getting older skilled athletes compete—and win—for many years longer than earlier than. Cyclists, swimmers, quarterbacks, and runners are progressing lengthy after they had been alleged to hit their athletic peak (see: Tom Brady, age 39 throughout his final Super Bowl look, or runner Meb Keflezighi and mountain biker Catharine Pendrel, 41 and 35, respectively, through the Rio Olympics.)


How do these superstars defy the well-established limits of age? And can the typical novice athlete be taught something from them to proceed competing into her forties and past?

(Courtesy Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

That’s the premise behind Play On, a ebook that particulars journalist Jeff Bercovici’s multiyear journey via the world of elite sports activities to find how these getting older athletes keep on the prime of their video games. Bercovici is well-suited to cowl the topic: He’s the San Francisco bureau chief for Inc., the place he experiences on know-how and entrepreneurship. He’s additionally an avid soccer participant who dabbles in working, mountaineering, and biking. Like most folk who would decide up his ebook, he’s pushing 40 and doesn’t wish to quit being a aggressive athlete.

“It’s not a matter of outliers,” Bercovici writes within the intro. “In virtually every sport, athletes are sticking around for an extra victory lap or three rather than shuffling off to the metaphorical showers at the first sign of gray.”

It’s a hopeful starting, significantly when you think about Bercovici spends the following a number of pages detailing precisely how our physique breaks down as we age. Muscle mass decreases, bone density diminishes, lung capability deteriorates. Even your max coronary heart price falls.

The excellent news? Bercovici argues that almost all of those declines may be delayed and even reversed via common intense train, and he factors to analysis displaying that some skilled athletes really dwell longer on common than the remainder of us. For occasion, Tour de France cyclists have a median life span that’s eight years longer than that of mere mortals. Studies present that elite athletes of their fifties and sixties typically have a decades-younger “biological age,” decided by how effectively their physique features.

Bercovici theorizes that getting older elite athletes know one thing the remainder of us don’t and use instruments most of us haven’t heard of but, like brain-stimulating headsets that improve motor abilities or DNA testing to foretell accidents. A examine cited within the ebook discovered a 17-year lag between the pioneering of a medical innovation and the introduction of that innovation to the overall inhabitants. “Peering into the world of elite athletes is literally a glimpse into the future the rest of us will soon be living in,” Bercovici writes. He meets established analysis and fringe science with equal components skepticism and fascination however typically withholds judgment of every follow till the top of the ebook.

Jeff Bercovici (Tony Conrad)

Aside from a deep dive into genetic testing (there’s no method to write about DNA sequences that doesn’t trigger narcolepsy within the layperson), it’s a quick and enjoyable learn that has Bercovici bouncing from anti-aging clinics to elite coaching camps to jujitsu studios on his quest for athletic longevity. He runs at excessive elevation with Meb, works the VersaClimber—a vertical “treadmill” that has athletes climbing with their palms and toes—subsequent to Colin Kaepernick at a coaching heart in Arizona, and particulars how some sports activities scientists are sending pulses of gentle electrical currents into the mind to reinforce cognitive velocity.

But the ebook doesn’t simply give attention to high-tech innovation. For instance, the software Peyton Manning used to lengthen his profession and win 1 final championship was a four-by-four plank turned steadiness drill. In reality, if there’s an overarching lesson to be discovered via Bercovici’s quest, it’s that no single technical innovation, health pattern, or superfood can halt age-related deterioration. This revelation might be disappointing for any getting older athlete who picks up the ebook hoping it is going to give her an edge on Strava. In reality, all through the vast majority of Play On, Bercovici resists giving the reader any actionable recommendation. There are not any prescriptions or meal plans. And let’s be sincere, a “do this, not that; eat this, not that” rundown might be what most of us are after.

Instead, Bercovici addresses our need for a silver bullet in a chapter referred to as “Careful What You Swallow,” which seems on the weird practices some athletes undertake to remain within the sport a bit longer. Athletes’ dietary habits learn like lists of superstitions: A professional basketball participant swears by the well being advantages of soaking in scorching pink wine; an NFL linebacker eats nothing however beef and pinto beans for days earlier than massive video games; a sure vampire-like tech large swears by younger blood.

Instead of a cure-all, the ebook operates below a extra holistic notion that working tougher whereas working smarter is the important thing to longevity in sports activities. When FIFA named Carli Lloyd, at age 33, the world’s greatest soccer participant, she was doing 400 pushups and 800 situps a day. But she additionally skilled herself to run slower throughout video games to preserve power. Similarly, you possibly can hint the extended success of athletes like Roger Federer or Tom Brady again to their work ethic and willingness to adapt as they age.

Sounds irritating, proper? It is. But don’t fret, for those who’re actually in search of some prescriptive recommendation, the epilogue presents a handful of cutting-edge health theories and practices that Bercovici himself has adopted after years of analysis. And it’s stuff that you would be able to really follow at residence with out dropping $20,000 on a cryogenic tank. I gained’t spoil Bercovici’s recommendation right here (it does contain consuming extra Jell-O), however I’ll say that the payoff is well worth the wait. Just do not forget that the most recent health improvements are nothing with no basis of exhausting work.

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(Editor references)

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