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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2013 Jan 1;114(1):3-10. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.01107.2012. Epub 2012 Oct 11.

New records in aerobic power among octogenarian lifelong endurance athletes.

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  • 1Human Performance Laboratory, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana 47306, USA.


We examined whole body aerobic capacity and myocellular markers of oxidative metabolism in lifelong endurance athletes [n = 9, 81 ± 1 yr, 68 ± 3 kg, body mass index (BMI) = 23 ± 1 kg/m(2)] and age-matched, healthy, untrained men (n = 6; 82 ± 1 y, 77 ± 5 kg, BMI = 26 ± 1 kg/m(2)). The endurance athletes were cross-country skiers, including a former Olympic champion and several national/regional champions, with a history of aerobic exercise and participation in endurance events throughout their lives. Each subject performed a maximal cycle test to assess aerobic capacity (VO(2max)). Subjects had a resting vastus lateralis muscle biopsy to assess oxidative enzymes (citrate synthase and βHAD) and molecular (mRNA) targets associated with mitochondrial biogenesis [peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-γ coactivator 1α (PGC-1α) and mitochondrial transcription factor A (Tfam)]. The octogenarian athletes had a higher (P < 0.05) absolute (2.6 ± 0.1 vs. 1.6 ± 0.1 l/min) and relative (38 ± 1 vs. 21 ± 1 ml·kg(-1)·min(-1)) VO(2max), ventilation (79 ± 3 vs. 64 ± 7 l/min), heart rate (160 ± 5 vs. 146 ± 8 beats per minute), and final workload (182 ± 4 vs. 131 ± 14 W). Skeletal muscle oxidative enzymes were 54% (citrate synthase) and 42% (βHAD) higher (P < 0.05) in the octogenarian athletes. Likewise, basal PGC-1α and Tfam mRNA were 135% and 80% greater (P < 0.05) in the octogenarian athletes. To our knowledge, the VO(2max) of the lifelong endurance athletes is the highest recorded in humans >80 yr of age and comparable to nonendurance trained men 40 years younger. The superior cardiovascular and skeletal muscle health profile of the octogenarian athletes provides a large functional reserve above the aerobic frailty threshold and is associated with lower risk for disability and mortality.

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