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By Sir Muir Gray for

Less than 2 weeks ago in the final of the World Tour Tennis Championship in Dubai, Roger Federer beat Novak Djokovic. Federer will be 34 years old on 8th August this year. It was a wonderful achievement, although many people would agree he is just past his peak. But he is number two in the world, yet even if he keeps playing and training hard, decline is inevitable due to the effects of ageing.

Ageing is a normal biological process and although signs of ageing can be seen in childhood, ageing as a dominant force does not take over from growth and development until the early twenties, and for most people the decline in ability also starts in the early twenties not, like Roger Federer, in the early thirties. The reason for this is not a biological difference between me and Federer, not much anyhow, but a social difference.   Most people in their early twenties enter a job that involves driving, sitting, or typing or all three, and they start to lose fitness, whereas professional sports players train full-time and can keep up their ability till the very early thirties – Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France when he was thirty-one.

For most of us, the ‘fitness gap’ opens up between how able we are and how able we could be, and that gap gets wider year after year after year as shown in Figure 1.

Loss of fitness does not really matter until about the age of sixty, unless you want to play sport. But from sixty on the gap can become very important. For many people, the point is reached in which they can no longer do what they want to do, for example climb the two flights of stairs to their flat or, if they have waterworks problems, get to the toilet in time. The reason they have lost this ability is because of the fitness gap. Their mobility level has dropped to a critical point not because of ageing but because of loss of fitness.

The good news is that fitness can be regained. At any age, the fitness gap can be closed and we can carry on enjoying life to the full even though affected by ageing, because by taking daily exercise, we can improve the four S’s of fitness: strength, stamina, suppleness and skill, and there is a fifth S – pSychological, stretching it a bit we know! Anything you do to get fit physically will help you feel better mentally and probably also slows the decline in the intellectual function too.

When Roger Federer stops playing full-time, the fitness gap will open up even for him but he probably knows enough about his body to have made a resolution that this is not going to happen, and his four children will keep him pretty active at least for the next twenty years!

We will provide information, advice and equipment to help you narrow the fitness gap.

About the author: Professor Sir Muir Gray, CB

He recently described himself (in a tweet) as the Don Quixote of the NHS: “tilting, always tilting.” As Chief Knowledge Officer of the NHS his job was defined by what he does—promoting improved care by the better use of evidence. Born, raised, and educated in Glasgow, he was a surgeon before he turned to public health in the 1970s. In the rest of his life he is developing Better Value Healthcare, whose mission is to publish handbooks and development programmes designed to get more value from health care resources in England, and worldwide.

Muir’s most recent book: Sod 70, the guide to living well is available here. He is also the Director of the National Campaign for Walking, is married with two daughters and lives in Oxford.