Dr. Helen

What’s the deal with 'old man strength'?

I was reading Men’s Fitness magazine and an article about the strength of older men caught my eye:

Every once in a while, a burly middle-ager makes headlines for a feat of strength, like when 54-year-old Rodney Hahn broke the 24-hour record for pullups (an astonishing 6,737). Or maybe at the gym you spot a wizened gray-haired dude benching well more than your 1RM for five reps without blinking. While both might leave you scratching your head, old-man strength is actually a thing that you may even have to look forward to. …

“Like a star that enters its red giant phase and begins to expand, when men enter the ‘autumn’ of their lives, the hormonal activity increases, staging a last surge for reproductive functions before shutting down,” explains Brandon Mentore, a strength and conditioning coach in Philadelphia and founder of TheBodyLogic.com. “This comes with increases in testosterone, cortisol, insulin, and growth hormone that contribute to increases in strength and recovery.”

Another contributing factor: Some older guys make it a point to devote their time and money to physical fitness. “As life responsibilities change, sometimes men are able to carve out more time for exercise, so there is simply more time to dedicate to staying fit,” says Derek Ochiai, MD, an orthopedic sports medicine doctor at Nirschl Orthopaedic Center in Arlington, VA. With age also comes confidence for some. “If the attitude is ‘50 is the new 40,’ instead of, ‘I’m 50/I’m old,” that mindset will change how they approach staying fit and working out,” says Ochiai. He also points out that advances in equipment and better knowledge of what constitutes total body fitness make it easier than ever to keep up good exercise habits well into the twilight years.

While I hardly think men who are 45 or 50 are “old,” it is nice to think that a guy can get stronger as he gets older, at least for a time. If older might mean stronger, it is a good reason to read books like The Barbell Prescription: Strength Training for Life After 40. Because who knows, your “older years” might be your best training years.