Int J Sports Med 2021; 42(10): 879-888
DOI: 10.1055/a-1480-7730

Current Insights in the Age-related Decline in Sports Performance of the Older Athlete

Bergita Ganse
1   Research Centre for Musculoskeletal Science & Sports Medicine, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
2   Innovative Implant Development, Clinics and Institutes of Surgery, Universität des Saarlandes, Homburg, Germany
Hans Degens
1   Research Centre for Musculoskeletal Science & Sports Medicine, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
3   Institute of Sport Science and Innovations, Lithuanian Sports University, Kaunas, Lithuania
› Author Affiliations
Funding Bergita Ganse was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), research fellowship grant number GA 2420/1–1


The higher performance level of master athletes compared to non-athletes is often associated with better health throughout life. However, even the physical performance of master athletes declines with age, and this decline accelerates from about the age of 70 years onwards. A progressive loss of muscle mass, declines in force- and power-generating capacity, decreased flexibility, and the concomitant decline in specific tension characterize the muscular changes underlying performance declines. In the cardiovascular system, declines in stroke volume and cardiac output, and cardiac and vascular stiffness contribute to decreasing performance. Recent studies have shown that long-term endurance exercise in master athletes does not only have positive effects, but is associated with an increased incidence of atrial fibrillation, atherosclerotic plaques, and aortic dilation, and even more so in men than in women. Recently, larger longitudinal datasets were analysed and showed that the age-related decline in performance was similar in longitudinal and cross-sectional data. In conclusion, regular physical activity enhances the exercise capacity, and hence quality of life in old age, but it is not without risks.

Publication History

Received: 28 December 2020

Accepted: 30 March 2021

Article published online:
17 May 2021

© 2021. Thieme. All rights reserved.

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