When Slowing Down Is Not So Good For You

A friend recently said she was concerned about her weight.

”Why is that?” I asked.

”I don’t know. I guess there’s not much you can do about it. It’s just what happens as you get older anyway,” she replied in a dejected tone.

We give a lot of credit to aging.

We gain weight…can’t lose it.

Get weaker…can’t help it.

Slow down…accept it.


Because the changes are insidious.

Take speed for example.

Your speed slithers away from you a little bit each day, each month, each year until, one day, you find yourself shuffling to and from the kitchen.

It’s true. It happens.

A lot.

Look around you. Slowness is everywhere.

We slow down for a couple of reasons.

First, from the age of 25, we lose a little lean muscle mass each year and by age 70, the total loss will be close to 30% with a 40% loss of strength.

You can’t move fast without being strong.

You won’t have good balance without being strong.

Second, with the absence of training and an inadequate diet, two key hormone levels drop: testosterone and growth hormone. And yes, women need testosterone (although it’s a tiny amount, it’s still important). Both of these hormones help you recover from taxing physical work and facilitate muscle strength and growth (oh, and if you want to keep younger looking skin, well, growth hormone helps you).

The loss of strength comes from atrophy of a specific type of muscle fiber – fast twitch. And things like walking, slow runs, cycling, swimming don’t do much to awaken the sleepy fast twitch. You have to use fast movements and some degree of resistance.

But, too much load and you hurt yourself as you try to push, pull, squat, or lift with speed.

Too little load and nothing changes.

If you want to slow the effects of aging on speed, the first thing to do is test yourself. Do a timed walking test. You need a solid foundation first. I was lecturing at a conference a few years ago about this topic and the importance of establishing the foundation and afterward one of the attendees came up to me and said, “You know, this reminds me of Star Trek. It’s like trying to go to warp speed with crap in your engines.” Well said.

To test your speed, mark off 100 meters. Use a stop watch or an app. Time yourself walking at a comfortable speed (CS) and your maximum speed without running or “race walking” (MS). Covert your result to centimeters per second. Then find yourself in the reference document below1)School of Allied Hearth, U-101, University of Connecticut Storrs, CT 06269, USA and Department of Rehabilitation, Hartford Hospital, Hartford, CT USA Fax (+1) 860 233 0609:

You want your MS to be considerably more than your CS.

Add power training to your training schedule.  Power is the application of strength over a short period of time. Here’s an example of a drill I like to use:


Add High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). You have to ease into this. If you’re not used to it and you go full tilt, well, your body will object.

The benefit of speed / interval training is significant. After just one round of sprinting / HIIT intervals, you’ll boost growth hormone by over 400% and that increase can last up to two hours.2)Stokes, K. A., M. E. Nevill, et al. (2002). “The time course of the human growth hormone response to a 6 s and a 30 s cycle ergometer sprint.” J Sports Sci 20(6): 487-94.

Talk about return on investment.

Most people get their “fitness” information from magazines, friends, or maybe some Internet sites. And most of those sources will suggest aerobic training to lose fat, improve cardiorespiratory function, etc. And that information is true but short sighted.

We’re going to slow down at least some as we age but you can make significant improvements in yourself if you want to. And it doesn’t take a lot of time either.

Let’s speed up a little? What do you say?

That’s all I have for now.

Thanks for reading.



PS – If you’re interested in what I do for exercise and training, go here. For my books, go here

PPS – this article is an updated version of one I published several years ago.

PPS – If you like this article, why not share it with a friend?

References   [ + ]

1. School of Allied Hearth, U-101, University of Connecticut Storrs, CT 06269, USA and Department of Rehabilitation, Hartford Hospital, Hartford, CT USA Fax (+1) 860 233 0609
2. Stokes, K. A., M. E. Nevill, et al. (2002). “The time course of the human growth hormone response to a 6 s and a 30 s cycle ergometer sprint.” J Sports Sci 20(6): 487-94.
Anne says

I really enjoy getting your blog. At 65 (66 this year!), I’m always concerned about staying active and strong. I got this horrible flu that has been going around just over 2 weeks ago, and I’m still getting over it! Of course, I couldn’t do any exercise , and I’m anxious to get started again.

Thanks for all the great ideas.

Monika says

Thank you for this latest article on slowing down. I’m in my mid 50s, but I still remain active in the outdoors and other sport like orienteering. A few weeks ago I introduced a new high intensity routine into my regular gym work-outs – I do about 10 minutes of tabata (20 secs of high intensity followed by 10 secs of rest). I’m looking forward to seeing how much difference it makes. Cheers

    DD Kelsey says

    Monika – Let me know how it goes…good idea.

Jimtigerpt says

From an observation standpoint, how true all of this is. I cannot think of even one person who I have come across that actually has mentioned or spoken about any type of speed “exercise” they were doing moreless anything else. It is always some type of machine at the club like the elliptical or bike or a standard weight machine. And I won’t even mention a rationale for the rep count which is a discussion for another day. But going fast during an exercise? Non existent. And that is a huge reason people get injured; simply their body cannot handle or react quickly enough to some type of external stimulus like stepping off of a curb the wrong way, stepping in a hole, or dodging an oncoming car they did not see in the grocery store parking lot. I always try to add some “reaction” time drills into people’s programs as I feel a huge part of how we function. But honestly, most people are far from being able to tolerate a speed workout because in my opinion, their strength, balance/flexibility, and core endurance foundation is so poor. But as DK recently told me, our job as PT’s often is getting people to the starting line. So, the question to ask yourself have you started the race or are you just drinking sand?

    DD Kelsey says

    Great observation Jimmy – good news is that people can change their ability if they want to.

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