Personally Speaking: Roger Federer shows benefits of staying in great shape

AS THE BBC trailed the announcement of the new Dr Who last Sunday evening, it was tempting to suggest that the real Time Lord on their screens was not Jodie Whittaker but Roger Federer.

It is now 14 years since Federer beat Mark Philippoussis to win his first Wimbledon title. This year however, Federer glided to his eighth Wimbledon title at the age of 35 without dropping a set.

Federer’s record breaking eighth Wimbledon title saw him become the oldest winner at SW19, beating Arthur Ashe’s record set in 1975.

The older you get, the stronger your mindset and the better you are – look at Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, what Serena Williams was doing and what Venus is doing now. Venus’s stirring run to the final at the age of 37 – twenty years after her Wimbledon debut – was an unbelievable achievement, especially given the auto-immune disease she has to contend with. We also had the 36-year-old Martina Hingis winning the mixed doubles with Jamie Murray – 20 years after she won the ladies’ singles title.

In other sports, there is Mark Felix, a regular entrant in the strongman competitions.

Mark, a dedicated body builder turned his attention to strongman competitions at the age of 37; comparatively late in relation to other strength athletes. He has since been crowned the winner of an impressive number of the competitions in the last 12 years.

And now, at the age of 52, he is still competing at the World level and importantly, still winning.

Here’s the thing. We actually shouldn’t be so surprised. When athletes train consistently and recover smartly, there’s no physiological reason their bodies should stop being able to achieve in their 30s and 40s.

The media portrayal of sport is partly to blame for this. Look at Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time with a total of 28 medals. And yet, the media reported on his most recent competition with the headline, “Michael Phelps Faces His Toughest Challenger Yet — Age.”

“Old Man Phelps” is just 31.

He wasn’t the only one. Less heralded was the American swimmer Anthony Ervin, who, at 35, had one flipper-like foot in the coffin in the eyes of the media.

At the 2000 Olympics, Ervin won gold in the 50-metre freestyle as a 19-year-old. Three years later, he stopped swimming. He moved to Brooklyn, became a musician and replaced swimming with smoking. In 2011, and nearly a decade later, Ervin started swimming again to help kick the cigarettes.

In Rio, Ervin won gold, again.

Age, to Ervin, Felix and Federer and to many other sports champions, is just a number.

The body can do amazing things if you look after it and it’s absolutely true that you’re as young as you think you are.

And importantly, sports champion or not, staying active plays a vital part when it comes to remaining younger for a longer period of time.

Studies show improvements in balance, strength, gait, muscular power, blood pressure, endurance and bone density as a result of regular physical activity in older age.

The most important time to exercise and stay active is between the age of 30 and 40, during which time muscle mass begins to decrease and fat deposits begin to build up.

People who do nothing to halt the body’s natural decline in middle age are at much greater risk of a whole range of conditions, including obesity, diabetes, raised blood pressure, heart problems, stroke and some forms of cancer.

A decline in fitness is not inevitable when you reach 45 but if you neglect exercise it’s the time in life when the ageing process causes it to speed up.

The old adage “use it or lose it” is true.

Studies show that most men and women in their mid-40s and beyond are not meeting exercise recommendations of 30 minutes a day, five times a week. And yet, now, more than ever, sports are accessible for everyone. Cycling is a fantastic form of exercise in your 40s and the benefits of walking should not be underestimated.

Sports champions illustrate the message that the body is an amazing thing but we must remember that we only have one of them.

Federer may demonstrate that age is just a number when it comes to being a sports champion but importantly, for you and I, we must remember that physical activity can add not only years to your life, but life to your years.
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