Fitness and Aging: Takeaways from Tom Brady's Success

Tom Brady, quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, won his 7th Super Bowl in January, as he continues to amaze with his fitness and success at the age of 43, which for professional sports — especially football — is considered past retirement.

Mr. Brady has put a new spotlight on fitness and aging, and how some can stay at maximum health by adhering to strict nutritional standards, regular exercise, weight management, sleep health and dealing with the everyday stresses of life, explains Michael Swartzon, M.D., primary care sports medicine physician with Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute and Miami Dolphins Team Physician. But as you age into your late 30s and beyond, it becomes increasingly challenging, he adds.

Frankie Ruiz, above, chief running officer at Life Time – Miami Marathon, speaks with Michael Swartzon, M.D., primary care sports medicine physician with Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute, on Instagram Live.

Dr. Swartzon recently joined host Frankie Ruiz, co-founder of the Miami Marathon and Half Marathon annual event, and the chief running officer at Life Time – Miami Marathon, for an Instagram Live segment, How Does Tom Brady Keep Winning at His Age?

The subject quickly turned to the effect of aging on the human body, with Dr. Swartzon putting 35 as the age when things get tougher for everyone seeking to stay or get fit.

“How is a 43-year-old quarterback in his 21st season still able to bring home a championship for the seventh time?” asks Mr. Ruiz.

Every part of your body ages differently and there’s a definite plateau, responded Dr. Swartzon.

“Unfortunately, starting pretty much at age 35, there’s a steady decline for all of us,” said Dr. Swartzon. “So, we think of a master athlete, which is the definition of an older athlete, as being 50 and over. But technically, starting at 35, there’s already noticeable decreases. And that’s why Tom Brady is so remarkable. In most professional sports, you don’t see many people making it past 40.”

Obviously, much depends on genetics and how well you take care of yourself via health living. But the decline comes even for the healthiest.

“But, overall, everything decreases — your cardiac output, your reaction time, the elasticity in your lungs, how much hormones you have to build muscle. And even your flexibility changes over time,” says Dr. Swartzon.

Here are more highlights from the IG Live:

Dr. Swartzon:
“So, as you age, a lot of things happen to your body. We achieve skeletal maturity somewhere between 15 and 20 years old, and then the brain matures after about 25. After that, it’s really a whole aging process and every part of your body and every system ages differently. A lot of it is based on genetics, environmental factors, and what you do in your life to stimulate your brain and your body.”

Mr. Ruiz:
“It’s just the way it is. There’s a younger crowd that can do it stronger, better, faster. And even though the older athlete may have experience, and the will and the heart, sometimes the aging process does take its toll. There are many factors about how age affects an athlete’s body and performance levels. One of those factors is a person’s medical condition as we grow older. Our body changes, we know our body doesn’t respond the same when we’re 57, as when we were 27. I’m not 57 yet, but I’m sure I’ll be saying that. What physiological changes happen with age?

Dr. Swartzon:
“If you can pick any organ system in the body, there’s going to be a change. So, the arteries become stiffer and your blood pressure goes up. That’s why people get high blood pressure when they’re older. Your bones don’t build up as quickly or as well — and that’s why certain people get osteoporosis. Or, at the very least, if you break something, it’s not like a kid that you might see in a cast for four weeks. An adult might be in it for two or three months. The older you are, the longer it takes. It’s just how the body works, unfortunately. Even your eyesight will deteriorate over time. And some of these are not factors you can really easily change or change at all.”

Mr. Ruiz:
“So, it’s safe to say that that you should check with your doctor if you want to want to train like Tom Brady, right? That’s the safe way.”

Dr. Swartzon:
“Professional athletes have such an advantage over the rest of us. I have kids at home and I have to juggle my work-life balance with my personal exercise routine. Everyone else has the same challenge. For most professional athletes, their job is to stay in shape. During the season, there’s a lot of activity with games and prepping for the playbook. In the off season, there’s a huge opportunity for recovery and for advancement. And every little bit helps. You cross train and you have recovery. And you have your diet. I can’t tell you how important sleep is to recovery. Most of us just don’t get enough sleep. You could be a better athlete and weigh less and be happier just by sleeping more. It’s that simple for some people.

“And I don’t know specifically what Tom Brady does. But I know what a lot of our successful athletes do. And that includes having a very holistic approach and multiple people helping them. They’ll have a stretch person, they’ll have a massage therapist, and they might have an athletic trainer and a physical therapist. They’ll have a sports performance person. So, they have all these resources to keep them at the highest level — which most of us don’t have.

“Think about what happened in the pandemic. People started working out in their garages and getting injured because there was no one there to help them. There was no personal trainer. There was nothing. And now there’s virtual training sessions and there’s a lot of companies that have classes. So, it’s more reasonable and you’re supervised … do you still have your running groups during the pandemic?”

Mr. Ruiz:
“Right now, it’s somewhat virtual, but we hope to get started soon. I would typically be out there having a conversation with a first-timer or recommending to someone that they start off a little easier. Even though they may have been athletes when they were in high school, they can’t just flip the switch and come out and run six- or seven- or an eight-minute mile — they’ve got to gradually build into that. But the pandemic has certainly brought a lot of people into exercise and had a lot more time. But I can see how people sort of ended up in your office.”

Dr. Swartzon:
“Yeah, and it’s funny because people will come in and they kind of self-diagnose themselves as being old. They remember having an ankle sprain or tennis elbow when they were younger and they could just shrug it off. And now, it just takes it takes longer to heal and that’s just one of the conversations I have to have. It’s like you said, you need to progress slowly. injuries happen to everybody. I don’t care how old you are. When you’re older, things might take a little bit longer to heal. You might need to see a doctor. You might need physical therapy. And you might need to slow down a little bit and let your body catch up with what your mind wants to do.”

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