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Respir Physiol Neurobiol. 2011 Jan 31;175(1):181-4. doi: 10.1016/j.resp.2010.10.003. Epub 2010 Oct 15.

Ventilation-limited exercise capacity in a 59-year-old athlete.

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Department of Sport Science, Medical Section, University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria.


Aerobic exercise performance may be limited by the respiratory system in fit elderly adults whose lungs undergo the normal ageing process or who develop lung diseases but can maintain high pulmonary blood flows and ventilatory requirements. Here we describe a 59-year-old athlete demonstrating high aerobic exercise performance limited by his relatively low ventilatory capacity. The male hobby cyclist (59 years, 176 cm, 83 kg), undergoing cardiopulmonary exercise testing, reported no complaints except a history of dyspnoea and exercise intolerance at high altitude (> 2000 m). Lung function testing indicated mild airway obstruction (FEVC: 4.22 l, FEV1: 2.91 l, FEV1/FEVC: 69%) which was not reversed post-bronchodilator. However, FEV1/FEVC was slightly above the 5th percentile and thus not confirming the diagnosis of COPD. The athlete completed 300 W (3.6 W/kg) and his maximal oxygen uptake was 45 ml/min/kg (156% predicted!). Above 250 W he was unable further increasing minute ventilation, and oxygen pulse and oxygen uptake even decreased. The related changes of the respiratory pattern (increase of breathing frequency, decreases of inspiratory capacity and tidal volume) indicated dynamic lung hyperinflation resulting in cardiac output constraint, arterial oxygen desaturation, severe dyspnoea and exercise limitation. This case report delineates the pathophysiological situation of ventilation-limited exercise capacity in a well-trained middle-aged subject. However, beneficial adaptations to regular exercise may have helped maintain high aerobic performance without any adverse symptoms during submaximal exercise.

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