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Mayo Clinic on the Summer Olympic Games: Better Athletes, the Physiology of Performance, the Lactate Threshold, the Aging Athlete and Much More
Date:7/31/2008

ighly trained athlete can delay that decline until they are in their later 30s or even early 40s. An average sedentary person loses about 10 percent per decade starting at about age 30, but for someone who is able to continue to train very hard into their 40s and 50s, they only lose about half that much - primarily due to the fact they continue to train hard," Dr. Joyner says.

The older athlete is redefining what normal aging is and what's possible for people who are middle age or older."

It's Cultural, Not Genetic

"Nobody becomes a great athlete without prolonged intense training," Dr. Joyner says. "As scientists search for genes and the determinants of performance, they keep drawing a blank. There have been no major gene discoveries saying that this gene really confers championship status or the potential for championship status of one person."

Sports are complex behaviors for biologists, he says. Many genes contribute to performance, but it isn't likely that one individual would have the right combination of all genes that would give you a natural competitive edge, he says.

"It can be very deceptive to say that since the Kenyans, and perhaps Ethiopians, are dominating distance running, it must be genetic. In fact there have been periods of time when other cultures have dominated distance running. Before World War II, the Finns dominated distance running. After World War II, the Eastern Europeans dominated distance running. They were just as dominant as the Kenyans are now," Dr. Joyner says.

Dr. Joyner points to cultural influences in sports. "I think what the Kenyans and Ethiopians have shown is the value of altitude training. They are physically active their entire lives, they live at high altitude, they run to and from school, they play soccer after school - all at high altitude (6,000 to 8,000 feet). There are not a lot of economic opportunities, so there is a tremendous incentive for people to run and train hard," he
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