Journal of Applied Physiology


The purpose of this study was to assess the physiological responses of former elite distance runners during submaximal and maximal exercise after a mean period of 22 yr. Fifty-three men were initially tested (T1) in the late 1960s and early 1970s when they were all highly trained and competitive. For the current evaluation (T2), these men were classified as highly trained (HT; n = 10), fitness trained (FT; n = 18), untrained (UT; n = 15), and fit older (FO; n = 10), depending on their continued level of training and age. The mean (+/- SE) age for the HT, FT, and UT men during T2 was similar (46.5 +/- 1.6 yr), whereas the FO men were significantly (P < 0.05) older (68.4 +/- 2.7 yr). All groups experienced a significant decrease (P < 0.05) in maximal O2 uptake (VO2 max) from T1 to T2. However, this decrease was related to the amount of training between evaluations. The HT men had the smallest reduction (6% per decade) in VO2 max (from 68.8 to 59.2 ml.g-1.min-1). The FT men's VO2 max was approximately 10% lower per decade (from 64.1 to 48.9, whereas an approximately 15% decrease per decade was observed for the UT (from 70.7 to 46.7 and FO (from 60.3 to 40.7 men, despite the continued training of the FO men. Energy requirements for a standardized run at 12 km/run were similar from T1 to T2 for the HT and FT men, whereas the UT men required an increased (P < 0.05) O2 uptake (40.3-41.8 l/min), ventilation (53.7-72.7 l/min), and heart rate (127-142 beats/min). The perceived effort and %VO2 max for this submaximal run were greater during T2 for all groups, which was related to the decline in VO2 max. These longitudinal data indicate that after more than two decades the physiological capacities of these aging runners are compromised, regardless of training. These data also confirm previous cross-sectional findings that aerobic capacity of highly trained middle-aged men declines approximately 5-7% per decade.