Masters Athletes - role models for health as well as fun, fitness and friendship


A recent article in “Nutrition Today”, a USA publication, confirms what we all know intuitively – that master athletes are fitter and healthier than their nonathletic counterparts of similar age. The authors reviewed the literature and conclude that, for master athletes.

  • Aerobic fitness declines less with age than for non-athletes. However, it seems that even for the highly motivated amongst our ranks, maintaining a high level of aerobic fitness, does become more difficult with advancing age. I’m sure we all agree with that.
  • Masters athletes have lipid profiles that are similar to younger adults (i.e. have a good ratio between “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol) and are therefore at lower risk for heart attacks. It appears continued exercise is necessary to maintain this favourable profile.
  • Masters athletes have improved glucose tolerance, enhanced insulin sensitivity and lower hip-to-waist ratios compared to sedentary older adults. This means they have reduced risk of developing the “metabolic syndrome” and Type 2 Diabetes that is so much in the news at the moment.
  • Osteoporosis is a common problem of aging, especially for women. Exercise, especially weight-bearing exercise is an important preventive measure and master athletes have been shown to have superior bone density levels which continue even after the cessation of physical activity.
  • Studies of the energy intake of master athletes show that they (we) consume more energy than sedentary controls. (Anyone who has attended the National LC Championships Dine-and-Dance functions can attest to the validity of this finding for NZ master swimmers!) In spite of this they have lower body weights and lower incidence of overweight and obesity than their non-athlete counterparts.

So the news is all good – as master swimmers we can maintain a healthy body weight, desirable body composition, a high level of fitness and we can significantly reduce our risk for some of the major health problems facing older people. As a bonus we can eat more food energy than our sedentary peers without the addition of unwanted weight gain, and this means if we choose wisely we have more opportunity to improve diet quality. But that’s another story…..


Sue Pollard


Reference: Rosenbloom, Christine and Bahns, Michele. What Can We Learn About Diet and Physical Activity From Master Athletes? Nutrition Today; 40: 6, 267-272, November/December 2005.


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