People who are active well into their elder years may rival the health of people 40 or 50 years younger than them, according to a new study of senior skiers.
The study participants — cross-country skiers more than 80 years old, one of whom was a former Olympian — had nearly twice the aerobic capacity of seniors who did not exercise. Aerobic capacity was measured in terms of how much blood the heart pumps and how much oxygen the muscles consume when they constrict. A higher aerobic capacity reflects greater endurance.
The aerobic capacity of these elite skiers was comparable to that of men 40 or 50 years younger who did not exercise to improve their stamina, the Swedish researchers said. Analyses of the cells and chemicals of the skiers' muscles revealed they were similar to what is found in younger men.
"The findings show that humans have a great potential to maintain a high level of physical work capacity and thereby better quality of life even at advanced ages ," said Per Tesch, professor of sports science at Mid Sweden University.
"The high values for maximum oxygen-uptake capacity that we have measured have never been reported before in a population of men of advanced age," Tesch said.
The study included 9 lifelong cross-country skiers. Some of Sweden's skiing icons, now more than 90 years old, took part. They were compared to a group of six individuals of similar age who do not exercise .
The findings from the study will be presented at the American College of Sports Medicine: Integrative Physiology of Exercise in Miami Beach, Fla., this week.