A new report was issued yesterday from the scholarly journal Biology Letters that studied the impact of age on climbers on Mt. Everest, and came to the conclusion that those over the age of 60 are at a much higher risk of dying on the mountain than younger climbers.
Today, I’ve seen a number of website pick up on the story, including the Outside Blog, ExWeb, and even Yahoo News as if this was some startling revelation or something. When I first read the headline, the first thing that came out of my mouth was “No shit!”, followed quickly by the thought “I wonder how much money they spent to figure that one out.”
Now to be fair, the researchers understood that younger climbers had physical advantages over older climbers, but they wondered if their experience would allow them to over come those advantages and hang with the younger crowd. The results were a bit surprising in the fact that 25 percent of those over the age of 60 who reached the summit, died on the descent.
ExWeb actually is challenging the findings to a degree in their article on the report. They call the study “dangerous” and challenge it on the grounds of it’s small sample size, saying that the researchers extrapolated some data to make for a flashier story. They actually make some very valid points, and use other mountains for comparisons.
For me, the thing that I kept thinking about as I read the findings was that nearly all physical activities become more challenging and risky as you get older. A similar study for runners for instance, would probably find that older runners suffer more injuries, can’t go as fast, take longer to heal, and yes, die while running. It’s just the nature of aging. We all slow down to one degree or another, and considering the physically demanding nature of climbing the highest mountain on Earth, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that older climbers have a tougher time making the summit, and run a greater risk of death or injury. To me, the report seems pretty obvious and not at all surprising. Of course, it also happened to come within a few days of my birthday, just to remind me that my chances of summitting Everest are getting less and less each year. 😉
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