Here’s When We Hit Our Physical and Mental Peaks

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Here’s When We Hit Our Physical and Mental Peaks

Even when we’ve peaked in one endeavor, we’re likely getting better in another



When are we our fastest, strongest and most creative?

Elite swimmers peak in their early 20s, powerlifters peak at 35 and equestrians later still, on average. Creativity peaks either very early in our careers or later, depending on how we think. Our ability to quickly absorb facts reaches its zenith in our late teens, while our vocabulary skills crest in our sixth decade.


Economists, sports scientists and psychologists have analyzed Olympic performances and chess matches, as well as thousands of online quizzes to determine the average age when people peak mentally and physically. They are trying to understandhow our brain and bodies work and if there are lessons on strengthening each.

The good news is that while we may have peaked in one endeavor, we are likely getting better in another.

“At every age, you are getting better at some things and worse at others,” says Joshua Hartshorne, an assistant professor of psychology at Boston College, who researches how various cognitive functions change with age.

People reach their various physical peaks at different times for different reasons, according to the studies. Fast-twitch muscle fibers help with speed and power—think sprinting—and are more prevalent in our muscles when we are young. Slow-twitch muscle fibers, which are those related to endurance, are more prevalent in muscles when we are older.

Physical attributes can play a role, too. Women have less muscle to lose, and peak at younger ages than men in muscle-intense sports like swimming.

The science on physical peaks

Rafal Chomik, an Australian economist at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research, led a study of peak physical performances among Olympic and professional athletes looking at how well different age groups perform in different sports.

For sports like sprinting, which requires speed, power and maximum oxygen consumption, athletes tend to peak in their mid-20s. In endurance sports, such as marathons, the peak is typically reached by 40. In tactical low-impact sports, like sailing and equestrian competition, athletes compete at elite levels in their 50s.

This is consistent with findings on cognitive capacity, says Chomik, noting that young people are better at tasks requiring raw processing power while older people excel at strategy.

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