Aging Starts Young

Answering the question “what is aging?” is essential to having the ability to do something about it. As we’ll see, we do know a great deal of the answer, and this leads to the conclusion that aging starts young.

Perhaps the earliest indication of aging is muscle loss. As we age, we lose muscle to the extent that by the age of 80, the average 80-year-old man will have lost half of his muscle. But this decrease in muscle starts early, and can be detected as early as when someone is in his thirties.

Aging includes not only loss of muscle, but a decline in the functions of the brain and nervous system, immune function, hormones, bone loss, and others.

One way to detect the beginnings of the decline in these functions would be to use a test capable of fine discrimination between people, since the deterioration of aging isn’t noticeable to the naked eye or even a thorough physical examination.

We do have such a finely discriminatory test: athletics.

The following chart shows the winners of men’s championship track and field events by age, and was put together by Erwin Schmidt using data from Wikipedia.


The chart shows that the number of gold medalists peaks at age 23 or 24. (Small sample size means that the number of medalists at age 24 could be a fluke.)

The number of medalists at ages 19 to 21 is small, perhaps because men that age have not reached a peak of development and are still adding muscle to their frames. It could also be due to more and harder training as they reach age 19 and begin to ramp up for a world-class battle.

At age 23 (or 24), the number of medalists peaks. Afterwards we see a steady decline, until at ages 30 to 33, only one runner of each age  won a gold medal. There are no gold medalists above the age of 33. By the age of 34, all championship runners have aged enough so that they’re not competitive at the world-class level.

Sprinting and short-distance running seem ideal for this sort of determination. In sprinting, intensity of effort is key, and all physiological systems must be in peak form and able to deliver 100% performance.

Sprinting also requires less skill (dexterity) than other sports, so we don’t confound the acquisition of skills as a person ages with physiological condition. And of course, skill is also a determinant in team sports, and sprinting is a solo sport.

Aging is damage

Aging means the accumulation of damage to tissues, cells, their organelles, and their constituent molecules (proteins and lipids).

Damage occurs at any age, but when an organism is young, it has full ability to clear and repair the damage.

Very likely, an important way that an organism clears damage is through dilution of the damage. When an organism grows, cells divide, and any damage present in one cell becomes diluted in the daughter cells, so that each cell has less damage overall.

We can see — or imagine — this process in the chart of the gold medalists above. The runners are still growing until the age of 23, which accounts for the smaller numbers of medalists at ages 19 to 22.

After the runners have reached maximum growth, then aging begins, and the number of medalists at each age declines. That’s what I speculate anyway.

But whatever the mechanism, it’s clear that aging starts young.

Fighting aging

While all body systems decline in aging, one of the earliest seen is the decrease in muscle mass and/or muscle power, and this probably (in my opinion) drives the decline in numbers of gold medal winners in track by age.

It follows that strength training, starting at an early age, could help stave off the earliest manifestations of aging. For instance, I now have more muscle mass in my sixties than I did at age 30. So I’ve covered at least that aspect of aging.

The decline in muscle mass and strength in the runners must be minuscule at those ages, but may be enough to affect the outcome of a world-class athletic event.


PS: For more on keeping and building muscle, read my book Muscle Up, and for more on fighting aging, read my book Stop the Clock.

PPS: You can support this site by purchasing through my Supplements Buying Guide for Men. No extra cost to you.


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Leave a Comment:

Aging Starts Young | Technology and Longevity Feed says October 24, 2016

[…] Original Article: Aging Starts Young […]

Herman Rutner says October 24, 2016

I saw a similar published age distribution for marathon runners. The corresponding ferritin levels for winning males were in the 50-100 ng/ ml, but EPO levels may be above normal.

Matt says October 26, 2016


I came across this article in the Japan Times. It’s consistent with what you’ve been saying for awhile now.

I was wondering a few things;

Have you come across any research being done specifically on average iron blood levels of the elderly Japanese or the country of Japan as a whole since they for the most part are outliving everyone else?

What about average blood levels of elderly people in India ? or India as a whole? (anemia seems to happen here somewhat often from what I’ve read)

( obviously low red meat consumption in both groups)

Thanks for continuing to put out great stuff!


    P. D. Mangan says October 26, 2016

    Hi Matt, I noted in a recent post (about Japanese men having lower rates of heart attacks) that Japanese women have about twice the rate of iron deficiency anemia as Western women, so that indicates a low iron load generally. However, I also saw some study in which Japanese ferritin levels in older adults were about the same as in the West. So I’d say the bias is toward lower levels, but what the truth is, I don’t know for sure. India, as you say, has low levels of meat consumption and high consumption of iron-blocking foods, especially bread, also turmeric. But Indians have other health problems that obscure the iron relationship: high diabetes and heart disease for instance. Vegetarians in India also have high rates of heart disease from high homocysteine, a consequence of B12 and folate deficiency.

    Appreciate the compliment. I’ll try to keep it up!

      Allan Folz says October 26, 2016

      If aging starts young, high ferritin levels in older Japanese would not be particularly indicative. The damage, or lack thereof, was from the previous 10-30 years. So, at age 50 their iron starts ticking up, matching westerners by age 60… fair enough, but western men had a 30 year head-start on iron accumulation, and western women a 5-10 year head-start.

      Add the extra damage from high carb, high O6, low iodine, low fiber diet, and sure why wouldn’t westerners die some 10-20 years earlier than Japanese?

        P. D. Mangan says October 26, 2016

        Good point, Allan.

          bigmyc says October 27, 2016

          I would agree that it is a good point, however, once we consider this then naturally, we must also consider that the ferritin levels of older Westerners should likewise be even higher than those of their Japanese counterparts. After all, if Westerners experience a “head start” on their life induced damage, why should the ferritin levels of older people be even roughly similar to the older Japanese?

          I somehow doubt that suddenly, at age 55 or whenever, the Japanese ferritin levels simply spike to meet the levels of Westerners of the same age. If it were to indeed do this, then wouldn’t the ferritin of Westerners also experience a similar uptick at around or even, before that age?

          P. D. Mangan says October 27, 2016

          What seems to happen on average with ferritin is they reach around 150 in men by 35-40. Some get much higher though. Women don’t experience a rise until after menopause. Iron does damage by load x time, so if the Japanese don’t reach these levels until later in life, then less damage. In Westerners, ferritin on average never gets above 150 in men, and then decreases, quite likely because men with higher ferritin die and the average goes lower. Not sure if that’s the right reply to your comment; please clarify if not.

Belovar says October 27, 2016

Speaking of iodine, what’s your take on that, Mangan? It seems to be quite a complicated question.

    P. D. Mangan says October 27, 2016

    Hi Belovar, it is a bit complicated. What stops me from a recommendation is the (probably remote) possibility of promoting hyperthyroidism. So probably iodine supplementation of any great amount should be done under a doctor’s advice.

      WellWisher says October 30, 2016

      Firstly – Nice Research, P.D.!
      Secondly – Very Nice Results!!!

      Belovar is onto something… let this following sentence clue you in…

      “The only way to produce atherosclerosis in a carnivore is to take out the thyroid gland”

      (ruminate over that sentence – you will see the light…)

      url ref:
      desc: Twenty questions on atherosclerosis


JP says October 28, 2016

I’d be interested to know how much muscle you could reasonably expect to add (and how well you could fight aging) if you DIDN’T start strength training at an early age. What if you started at 50? Or 60?

I did a lot of lifting in my late 20s, then stopped going as regularly, then recently restarted (am now late 40s). I will be very curious to see if I can exceed my 1RMs from those days of yore.

    P. D. Mangan says October 28, 2016

    I suppose no one knows the exact answer, but I have more muscle now than in my late 20s.

peter connor says October 28, 2016

Hey P.D., my ferritin level came in about 300, Red Cross is too incompetent to find a vein, so can’t give blood. I started taking IP-6, no adverse effects at all, so far.. Do you think it would be OK to take 2 capsules a day for chelation? Thanks!

    P. D. Mangan says October 28, 2016

    Hi Peter, IP6 is virtually non-toxic. I think Dr. Shamsuddin, who did much of the work on IP6, has people taking a couple thousand milligrams a day.

      peter connor says October 28, 2016

      Thanks! Any other ideas on chelation?

        P. D. Mangan says October 29, 2016

        Sure. Green tea extract and curcumin chelate iron, and it looks like aspirin does too.

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