, Volume 29, Issue 2–3, pp 77–85 | Cite as

Effects of age and gender on physical performance

  • Vanina Bongard
  • Ann Y. McDermott
  • Gerard E. Dallal
  • Ernst J. SchaeferEmail author


Our purpose was to examine the effects of age and gender on physical performance. We assessed a one-hour swimming performance and participation of 4,271 presumably healthy men and women, aged 19–91 years, from the 2001–2003 United States Masters Swimming long-distance (1 h) national competition. The decline in performance with increasing age was found to be quadratic rather than linear. The equation which best fit variation in 1 h swimming distance in meters (m) according to variations in age in years (y) in men was: distance (m) = 4058 + 2.18 age−0.29 age (;jsessionid=DiRVACC7YS3mq27s5kV3vwpEVSokmmD1ZJLC7pdnol3KcfoSu0t!1096311956!-949856145!9001!-1), with the same equation for women except that 380 m needed to be subtracted from the calculated value at all ages (about a 10% difference). There was a large overlap in performance between men and women. The overall mean decline in performance with age was about 50% and was parallel in men and women. The mean difference in distance for a 1-year increment in age was −9.7 m at 21 y of age, −21.3 m at 40 y, and −44.5 m at 80 y. Far greater declines of about 96% in numbers participating with advanced age (80 y and over, 4% of peak numbers) were observed than in the 40–49 y age group. In conclusion, the declines in performance were parallel in men and women at all ages, and the 1-year age-related declines in performance were about twice as great at 40 y and more than four-times as great at 80 y than at 20 y of age, with even greater age-related declines in participation being noted for both men and women.


Aging Physical performance Physical activity Exercise Swimming 



This material is based on work supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Research Service under agreement no. 58-1950-4-401. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This research was supported by USDA contract 53-3K06-10. Dr Bongard was supported by a grant from Pfizer of France, and her current location is the Faculty of Medicine, University of Toulouse, Toulouse, France. Dr. McDermott was supported by an NIH Postdoctoral Fellowship Award (F32 DK064512-03), and her current location is the Life Sciences Department, California State University at San Luis Obispo, San Luis Obispo, CA, USA.

The authors would like to thank Lynn Hazlewood, Marcia Cleveland, Peter Crumbine, and Bob Bruce from the USMS Long Distance Committee for providing the result data files of the USMS one-hour championships; Barry Fasbender, USMS Championship Committee Chair, and Bill Volckening, the USMS National Publication editor of SWIMMER Magazine, for providing 2005 championship data, as well as Esther Lyman and Tracy Grilli for providing information on the number of USMS members.


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Copyright information

© American Aging Association, Media, PA, USA 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vanina Bongard
    • 1
  • Ann Y. McDermott
    • 1
  • Gerard E. Dallal
    • 1
  • Ernst J. Schaefer
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Lipid MetabolismTufts University Human Nutrition Research CenterBostonUSA

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