Is Timing Everything? The Ideal Age for Achieving Peak Performance

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We live in an age that is slightly obsessed with the time that passes: we are encouraged early on to try and achieve everything at once. But what if we are not meant to? Research suggests that different ages might be more suitable for different activities and that there is an ideal time in our lives where we reach our peak performance across a variety of tasks.

The Ideal Age for Winning at Sports

While different people may experience their physical and mental ability differently throughout ages, scientists concur that there is an average age where most people peak at a given task. According to research published on Business Insider, our 20s are the prime age for physical exercise. At 25 years old, our muscle strength is at its best, and 28 is the best age for running a marathon. According to Betway’s infographic on the world’s winners, which compared 236 winners from the 21st century across the most prestigious film, music, literature and sports contests like the Olympics and Wimbledon, the ideal time for being first is even lower: sports winners are on average 23 years old. This, of course, does not mean that we do not occasionally get the odd very young or 30-something marathon winner. At the Beijing Olympics in 2008, 21-year-old Sammy Wanjiru won the men’s marathon, while Constantina Tomescu took home the gold medal in the women’s marathon at age 38.

Achieving Peak Performance

Yet scientific research confirms that there are ages where we peak at certain sports – and a combination of our physiology and our training habits are to blame. According to the Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine and Science, our body force peaks at roughly 25 years of age and then becomes stable through 35 or 40 years of age, before rapidly declining to reach a 25% loss by 65. The same source also suggests that the ideal age for peak performance across various sports depends on the key element they require. Aerobics athletes usually peak during their mid-twenties, while for sports like gymnastics where flexibility is crucial, the peak age is even earlier. In other anaerobic sports such as equitation and golf, experience is the most important factor, while muscle strength remains stable, which leads to peak performances between the ages of 30 and 40.

Age Affects Our Mental Capacities – and Our Happiness

This focus on peak performance in our 20s could also have a lot to do with factors unrelated to our bodies. For example, it could be explained as a combination between the vitality and enthusiasm we experience in our earlier years and the maturity that we start to gather while we transition into adulthood: we finally understand the importance of discipline and are willing to put in the hours required to harness our potential into excelling at sport. Or simply, at following a regular exercise and fitness schedule that can work wonders for our bodies. Naturally, a balanced lifestyle is always the key to performing at your best at any age: bad habits like drinking and eating too much, smoking or not exercising regularly can lead to your body aging prematurely and not getting the most out of its potential. But the absence of older ages (past 60) from the pool of winning competitors can also be attributed partially to the fact that as we age, we become less interested in the competitive aspect of sport and more into it for the social and wellbeing side of it.

Achieving Peak Performance

Our mental capacities and mental wellbeing also show signs of varying across ages. A study by MIT that reviewed roughly 670,000 people of different ages and nationalities found that after the age of 18 it is much more difficult to achieve fluency in a foreign language, especially for learning grammar. According to the data reported by Business Insider, our brain reaches its peak regarding processing power at 18 and we are best at remembering names at 22, but other aspects of our cognitive function reach well into our later years. At 31, we reach our peak performance at chess, a game that requires intense cognitive and strategic skills. 40 is the best age to make a discovery that could win a Nobel Prize, and at 43 our ability to focus is at its best. We achieve our peak performance in math at age 50 and realize our potential when it comes to vocabulary at age 70.

And happiness? Our mental wellbeing seems to suffer through the ages when we are striving to be most productive; it is not until we reach 74 that we are at our peak of happiness with our body and 82 that we experience our best in terms of psychological wellbeing. In general, life seems to be getting better after 50 for many of us – we can finally relax and enjoy the fruits of our labor.

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