After a physical or mental peak, the only direction is down. However, scientists believe that, at the same time, we are getting better at something else.
Peak Physical and Mental Performance
Peak Physical Activity
Our speed and power depend on the fast-twitch muscle fibers that flourish when we are young. As a result, sprinters peak during their mid-20s. Also though, gender kicks in with women peaking earlier because they have less muscle.
Meanwhile, where physical activity depends on endurance, athletes peak later. For marathoners, the optimal age could be close to 40 when the slow-twitch muscle fibers that relate to endurance are more prevalent.
Somewhat similarly, the 50-year-old sailors and equestrians that excel at strategy peak during their sixth decade. Equestrian Steffen Peters explained that the extra energy he had when he was younger was more than offset by his wisdom as a 56-year-old silver medal Olympics winner.
And further complicating our answers, for tennis, we could see the peaks change. Because of better equipment, training, and science, the age of a tennis player’s optimal performance has gone up by four to six years.
Peak Mental Activity
To identify peak mental activity, researchers looked at conceptual and experiential thinkers. Like Picasso, the conceptual artists that challenged the conventional wisdom peaked during their 20s. Meanwhile, experiential writers that depended on accumulated wisdom and experience such as Robert Frost did their best work into old age. Also with economists, the conceptual thinkers peaked at 25 while the individuals with research that depended on experience could peak 40 years later.
Next, to all of this we can add a recent survey of millions of biomedical papers. Here, researchers reported, on average, that the most creativity came early in a career. However, a closer look revealed that the least innovative individuals left the field and published much less. Meanwhile, the innovators continued producing research for two or three subsequent decades.
Our Bottom Line: Peak Performance
When identifying peak physical and mental performance. we see data that varies by age and substance. In addition, we have a host of other variables to consider that include funding, institutional biases, and family responsibilities.
And, we can remember that, at any age, a peak is possible.
My sources and more: Today’s post was inspired by this WSJ column. From there, this summary of recent research added detail. And finally, I suggest looking at this past econlife post for additional studies.