An Associated Press story confirms what many sports docs and athletes have been proving for years: that 40 is really our physical peak, not 30. With a simple tapping test, researchers at UCLA discovered that after age 39, an average person starts to slow down—their brain can’t send signals to their finger as fast as it once could. This is because the speed of the body’s neural network depends on the health of myelin, a fat that coats nerve fibers and keeps them whole.
Researchers discovered that myelin health seemed to peak at age 39, which may or may not bum you out. If you’re younger, then you can take heart in the fact that, barring an injury, you can keep building up your strength, endurance, and coordination until you’re 40, i.e., it’s perfectly natural for you to be better at 39 than you were at 26. If you’re older, then it appears that the game is over, and now, it’s just a fight to keep what you have.
The UCLA docs, however, did note that people who are constantly challenging their brain through physical activity or mental gymnastics like playing music may be able to delay the decline. As they point out, this study was conducted on average people, not fit athletes or concert violinists.
So the takeaway in all this? You have the capacity to become a better climber/kayaker/tennis player/skier/ whatever all the way to age 40—there’s no reason you can’t beat the 20-year-olds. After the fourth decade, the advice is to keep playing hard, but be prepared to watch your coordination slide over the coming years. There’s no reason you can’t become stronger over the next half of your life, but don’t expect to become faster and quicker. Thus you might want to think twice before tree skiing at full speed. That’s called being smart, which is something you can use to your advantage ‘til you die.