The more physically fit we are, the more we can handle of what life throws our way. A natural mood regulator and stress reliever, exercise helps increase overall physical strength and allows for maintaining a greater degree of independence as we age.
When it comes to endurance, people who exercise on a regular basis up to the age of 80 have the same aerobic capacity as someone half their age, says a new study from Ball State University.
“New Records in Aerobic Power Among Octogenarian Lifelong Endurance Athletes,” a Ball State research project conducted in collaboration with several Swedish researchers, found that the longtime athletes in the study are enjoying vibrant and healthy lives. The study was recently published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.
“In this case, 80 is the new 40,” said the study’s lead author Scott Trappe, director of Ball State’s Human Performance Laboratory (HPL). “These athletes are not who we think of when we consider 80-year-olds because they are in fantastic shape. They are simply incredible, happy people who enjoy life and are living it to the fullest. They are still actively engaged in competitive events.”
Researchers examined nine endurance athletes from northern Sweden and compared them to a group of healthy men from Indiana in the same age group who only performed the activities of daily living with no history of structured exercise.
Members of the two study groups rode exercise bikes as researchers measured oxygen uptake. When the participants reached total exhaustion, they had reached maximum oxygen uptake (also known as VO2 max). Skeletal muscle biopsies were then taken.
The study also found the endurance athletes established new upper limits for aerobic power in men 80-91 years old, including a maximum oxygen uptake that was nearly twice that of untrained men their age.
“To our knowledge, the VO2 max of the lifelong endurance athletes was the highest recorded in humans in this age group, and comparable to nonendurance-trained men 40 years younger,” Trappe said. “We also analyzed the aerobic capacity of their muscles by examining biopsies taken from thigh muscles, and found it was about double that of typical men. In fact, the oldest gentleman was 91 years old, but his aerobic capacity resembles that of a man 50 years younger. It was absolutely astounding.”
A person’s VO2 max is a proving to be a better predictor of mortality than many better-known cardiovascular risk factors, Trappe said. Based upon the VO2max findings, the lifelong exercisers have a 50 percent lower all-cause mortality risk compared to the untrained men.
The current research is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).