As we age our reaction times slow down. Some decline is normal, but is the slow down you’re experiencing normal? How do you even go about addressing your reaction time? Is it a lost cause?
Has the following ever happened to you?
You’re driving in traffic, stopped at a red light. Out of the blue people start honking their car horns at you. You look up and realize that the light just turned green. Your first thought is that everybody on the road needs to calm down. But what if what you think of as reacting quickly is actually VERY delayed?
This is a common example that happens to many of our senior fitness clients.
Why does our reaction time get slower?
Starting in our mid-60’s we lose an alarming amount of muscle, known as sarcopenia. The most alarming part is that your Type 2 muscle fibers are preferentially lost. These Type 2 fibers are your fast-twitch, or explosive movers. Keeping these guys around helps you not have the ‘old-man shuffle’ or ensures you can still choose to sit in a couch because you’ll be able to get out unassisted.
How do you stop this from happening?
To preserve your fast-twitch muscle fibers you have 2 options:
- Lift heavy. Lifting heavy weights elicits your high threshold motor units-in normal speak this means because it’s heavy your brain sends signals to the muscle that it’s all hands on deck, code red, act NOW! This extra strong signaling is what your type 2 fibers need to stay around.
- Move fast. If you don’t use it you lose it. If you want to move quickly, than move quickly…and often!
Many senior fitness programs treat you like a vegetable. Moving slowly, using light weights and hoping you don’t make them call 911 while you’re there. If you aren’t doing 1 or the other (ideally both) you’re wasting your time.
Now back to your reaction time. While research is currently vague about whether working on reaction time can see significant improvements in your reaction time, it’s been our experience that when integrated into a movement it does improve.
Usually if you think agility-you think of a football player running through tires, or a soccer player using those ladder looking things. That’s great and has it’s place. The problem is you know exactly what and where you are suppose to go/do. It’s a fixed agility pattern.
All you really need to challenge your reaction time is some uncertainty. Here we’re using a soccer ball. Each touch of the ball is a little different, making the ball spin, and move differently resulting in the need to quickly adapt and move your body accordingly.
As with all our brain training cognitive agility drills, the enjoyment and engagement is through the roof which will keep you coming back for more.
Whether you are a masters athlete looking for a competitive edge or an older adult looking to enjoy retirement, make sure you are working those fast-twitch muscle fibers and your reaction time.