We examined whole body aerobic capacity and myocellular markers of oxidative metabolism in lifelong endurance athletes (n=9, 81±1 y, 68±3 kg, BMI=23±1 kg/m2) and age-matched, healthy, untrained men (n=6; 82±1 y, 77±5 kg, BMI=26±1 kg/m2). 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 (VO2max). Subjects had a resting vastus lateralis muscle biopsy to assess oxidative enzymes (citrate synthase and βHAD) and molecular (mRNA) targets associated with mitochondrial biogenesis (PGC-1α and Tfam). The octogenarian athletes had a higher (P<0.05) absolute (2.6±0.1 vs. 1.6±0.1 L•min-1) and relative (38±1 vs. 21±1 ml•kg-1•min-1) VO2max, ventilation (79±3 vs. 64±7 L•min-1), heart rate (160±5 vs. 146±8 b•min-1), and final workload (182±4 vs. 131±14 watts). 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 VO2max of the lifelong endurance athletes is the highest recorded in humans >80 y of age and comparable to non-endurance 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.
- heart rate
- oxygen consumption
- skeletal muscle
- Copyright © 2012, Journal of Applied Physiology