If you’ve ever seen a Cirque du Soleil performance, you’ve no doubt been dazzled by the acrobatics and the energy of the performers. And you’ve probably thought that these superb athletes are in a class of their own and must be very different from you and me.
While it’s true that few people could match their athleticism, that doesn’t mean their experiences don’t have lessons for the rest of us.
Dean Kriellaars is a Canadian physiologist at the University of Manitoba who studies the Cirque du Soleil performers. What he has learned can be an inspiration. His findings are described in an article in Slate co-authored by David Epstein, who writes about genetic influences on sports performances.
Kriellaars, in his 50s, tries to learn a new sport or skill every year, from in-line skating to kiteboarding.
We know that in most people bone density reaches a peak in the 20s and then declines slowly over the next decades. Not so in the Cirque du Soleil performers.
“In our men and women who perform, we find that there’s almost no loss at all up to 65,” Kreillaars says in the Slate article. “It’s almost a flat line up to 60 or 65, certainly to 60.”
Muscle and fat
The fate of their muscles is different, too. As the Cirque performers approach 60, “we see a very slow decline,” Kreillaars explains, “but not nearly the decline” you would expect.
They do gain fat as they get older, just like the rest of us, but again it’s not nearly at the rate the rest of us experience.
Now, you’re probably thinking that the Cirque athletes must be rehearsing and performing for a lot more each day that we can manage or find time to do.
How much Cirque du Soleil performers exercise
The Cirque du Soleil performers average 270 minutes of exercise a week, including performances. Kreillaars knows this because he tracks their activity with electronic monitors.
That’s an average of just under an hour, five days a week. Some of us exercise that much already and some of us could get closer to it than we do now and enjoy some of the health benefits that the circus performers do.
The Cirque athletes are not “circus freaks,” says Kriellaars, they’re just very consistent in their exercising and physical activity.
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