Sports

Why older athletes like Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady are still winning

These athletes are beating their competitors — and Father Time.

On Sunday, PGA Tournament champion Phil Mickelson became, at 50 years old, the oldest golfer to win a major. Tom Brady, 43, notched his seventh Super Bowl championship in February, breaking his own record as the oldest player to do so. That same month, Serena Williams, 39, made history at the Australian Open as the oldest active player to advance to a Grand Slam semifinal.

Last weekend, Olympic gymnast Chellsie Memmel came out of retirement to compete at the US Classic — at the relatively geriatric age of 32.

“Today, athletes definitely have different expectations surrounding career longevity,” said Tim Grover, author of “Winning: The Unforgiving Race to Greatness.” “They want to play longer.”

Phil Mickelson, 50 became the oldest golfer to win a major
Phil Mickelson, 50, is now the oldest golfer to win a major.
PGA TOUR

He credits this new wave of mature success to combination of mental training, nutrition and technological advancements that help manage bodily stress and mitigate injury.

“There’s so many resources available out there that allow us to gather this information on performance and incorporate it into working out, rest and nutrition, and massage therapy and muscle activation,” said Grover, who has trained Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Russell Wilson. “We were just kind of playing with all of these pieces in the ’80s and ’90s. Now, every athlete has found their teams who all have their specialities.”

Brady is famous for his monastic TB12 method that shuns nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, eggplants, peppers) and puts pliability — working out with resistance bands and vibrating rollers to make muscles more soft and resilient — first.

Chellsie Memmel competes on the balance beam at the Indiana Convention Center, Indianapolis, Indiana.
Last weekend, Olympic gymnast Chellsie Memmel came out of retirement to compete at the US Classic.
AP

But what’s good for the GOAT isn’t always good for the gander. High-performance athletes have individualized programs that cater to their specific needs, deficiencies and strengths.

“The program I had Kobe on was totally different from what I had MJ on and same for Dwyane Wade,” said Grover. And that may mean they don’t end up with a six-pack. “Guys like Tom Brady and Phil don’t have the shredded physique of what an athlete is supposed to look like, but the [body] parts they need to perform are so finely tuned.”

Wearable technology, meanwhile, gives trainers and medical professionals the ability to evaluate a pro’s wear and tear and injury risk at an increasingly sophisticated, granular level.

Serena Williams of the United States plays a forehand in her Women’s Singles Semifinals match against Naomi Osaka of Japan during day 11 of the 2021 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on February 18, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia.
Serena Williams, 39, is the oldest active player to reach a Grand Slam semifinal.
Getty Images

“We have more understanding to measure heart rate variability and strain and stress on the body,” Dr. Michael Zacchilli, an orthopedic surgeon at Northwell Health, told The Post. “We can do that in a pretty precise manner.”

He added that, in decades past, athletes would play through muscle strains — but now they’re more inclined to rest.

They’re also now more focused on nutrition — and less on partying — than in the days of William “The Refrigerator” Perry, John Daly and Dennis Rodman.

“The athletes of the past, they celebrated hard and they celebrated long,” said Grover. “Athletes today, they celebrate hard but not long. They enjoy their cigars and tequila, but they don’t indulge on a regular basis.”

Rob Gronkowski #87 and Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrate after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium on February 07, 2021 in Tampa, Florida.
Tom Brady, 43, notched his seventh Super Bowl championship in February, breaking his own record as the oldest player to do so.
Getty Images

And it’s not just the pros who are benefiting from all of this new biometric information. Zacchilli noted how the accessibility of wearables is driving the trend of enduring peak performance in the general population as well.

“The amount of active older adults is increasing drastically. The [finish-line] times at the New York City marathon for older age groups haven’t plateaued yet. They are still going down,” he said.

Dr. Manisha Parulekar, chief of geriatrics at Hackensack University Medical Center, said she was “elated” when she saw Mickelson’s historic victory and plans to use it to evangelize an active lifestyle for her patients.

“What these athletes are telling us is that, if you do the right things earlier on, you have a chance of being healthy, active and independent for a longer period of time.”

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