Journal of Applied Physiology

New Records In Aerobic Power Among Octogenarian Lifelong Endurance Athletes

Scott Trappe, Erik Hayes, Andrew J. Galpin, Leonard A. Kaminsky, Bozena Jemiolo, William J. Fink, Todd A. Trappe, Anna Jansson, Thomas Gustafsson, Per A. Tesch


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.

  • aging
  • exercise
  • heart rate
  • oxygen consumption
  • skeletal muscle