Master athletes who exercise regularly appear to avoid the development of insulin resistance and deterioration of glucose tolerance (GT) commonly seen with aging. To evaluate the possibility that exercise prevents rather than masks the aging-related changes responsible for development of insulin resistance, we investigated the effects of 10 days of physical inactivity in 14 master athletes aged 61 +/- 2 (SE) yr. The response of 10 of these men to inactivity was similar to that of young athletes, with an unchanged plasma glucose response and a significantly greater insulin response to an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) after 10 days of inactivity. These 10 athletes appeared to have been protected against the aging-related changes in GT because their plasma glucose and insulin levels during the OGTT after 10 days of inactivity were not significantly different from those of young lean sedentary men. In contrast, a deterioration in GT occurred in four of the master athletes during 10 days of inactivity; this was sufficiently marked in two of them to be classified as impaired GT. We conclude that regular exercise may 1) protect against the development of insulin resistance and decline in GT with aging in individuals with normal GT and 2) normalize GT by means of short-term effects of exercise in some individuals with abnormal GT.
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