Endurance Athletes With Hearts Half Their Age
According to new research, a lifetime of endurance exercise may combat other age-related declines in overall health. Ultra athletes have 80 percent higher cardiovascular health than the typical octogenarian.
A study followed nine ultra athletes (all men) who had primarily focused on cross country skiing, but had also participated in running and cycling.
In the experiment, the octogenarians rode exercise bikes that started out at slow speeds, but ramped up until the riders were too exhausted to keep going. All the while, the research team measured how much oxygen the athletes were using. (Researchers also monitored the riders for changes in the heart's electrical activity and blood pressure to make sure the exercisers were not in distress.) The point of exhaustion marked the riders’ maximum oxygen capacity, or VO2 max.
Researchers then took a pea-sized muscle biopsy to measure the capacity of the mitochondria, the cell's power producers.
"[W]hen compared with six healthy, sharp, but untrained Indiana octogenarians, the athletes had a VO2 max 80 percent higher, similar to that of men decades younger. VO2 max is a powerful predictor of heart attack risk, even more so than traditional risk factors like cholesterol, [Scott Trappe, an exercise researcher at Ball State University] said.
"This long decline into disability, it's not our biological destiny," he said. It's that lust for life that seems to preserve the physical body as well. Like Fauja Singh, the 100 year old marathon runner that vows to run until the day he dies.