Sport and health: these champions who last longer and longer

At 43 years and nine months, Vitorino Hilton walked Sunday, May 16 for the last time on the lawn of the Montpellier stadium, where his club faced Brest. After the final trip to Nantes, Sunday 23, for the last day of Ligue 1, the Hérault defender will in principle retire. He will remain as the historic dean of all the major European championships.

Any record being called to be beaten, fifteen players are in the ranks in Ligue 1 to bring down that of Hilton. These 15 contenders have passed the age of 35, an age once considered the limit for the high level in pro football, a border surveyed by Zlatan Ibrahimovic who has largely contributed, at almost 40 years old, to bring AC Milan back to the top this season plan in Italy. Only a knee injury will prevent him from becoming, in June, the record holder for Euro football, under the colors of Sweden.

In the spring 40-year-old star category, he will be stolen the spotlight by Serena Williams and Roger Federer, who will blow out their 40 candles this summer after Roland-Garros (May 31-June 13). Former player and tournament director Guy Forget is blown away by the performance. “I admire these players who put themselves in danger in front of ambitious young people, explains the former Davis Cup captain. You have to love this game a lot and have a lot of energy to keep training every day. “

Seventh Super Bowl at 43

The diagnosis is shared by professor of physiology Jean-François Toussaint, director of the Institute for Biomedical Research and Sports Epidemiology: “Resistance to suffering and motivation are difficult to measure scientifically, but we know that they play an essential role, just like the ability to analyze one’s own sport: athletes able to take a step back last longer. “

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This theory holds true in practice for stars Federer, Williams or Ibrahimovic, who have all taken sabbaticals during their long run. And even more, according to Professor Toussaint, for his favorite case, the American football player Tom Brady, who won this season at 43 his seventh Super Bowl by playing only the important games.

“He’s at a post (quarterback) where he doesn’t need the muscle power of the forwards or the speed of the wingers. He distributes the game, he is the playing master, the one who reads the opponent’s defense. These qualities progress over time. “

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Well protected behind his forwards, preserved in training, Tom Brady keeps most of his influx for matches. Like Philippe Gilbert, a 38-year-old Belgian road star who is currently trying his hand at mountain biking to break with the monotony of cycling. Or Roger Federer, who in recent years has reduced his appearances as much as possible to lower the risk of injury, the multiplication of which shortens careers.

A cyclist who falls often does not last

“A runner who falls a lot does not last long”, Thomas Voeckler repeats at length on the air, a late retired cyclist (at 38) who became a commentator on France 2. Same observation with Johan Clarey, the dean of the French ski team: “I was lucky not to have too many glitches in the second half of my career, which is what gave me the desire and the confidence to continue”, said the descender during the last World Championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo, in which he participated a month after his 40th birthday.

“The injuries, the mental and the quality of training are essential, but they are part of a general progress of the physical condition of humanity”, tempers Professor Toussaint. “The increase in the length of careers and the increase in the length of a healthy life are linked, he continues. This is especially true in developed countries where advances in medicine, science and medical imaging are in full swing. Conversely, in countries where social inequalities in access to medicine are still strong, the longevity of athletes increases less. “


Not all sports are created equal

Studies carried out for more than twenty years on the increase in the length of careers show that longevity also depends on the discipline. If it remains relatively short in combat disciplines or team contact sports (rugby), it has experienced a strong increase in less traumatic team sports, such as football, handball or basketball. Ditto in individual strategy sports, such as fencing or tennis. It takes off in so-called worn disciplines (swimming, cycling or horse riding) or mechanical and nature sports (sailing, trail).


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