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Thursday, January 21, 2021

Longevity in athletes -good genes,exercise levels or both

 There are several reports suggesting that endurance athletes enjoy good longevity .These studies have involved professional cyclsits,Ski racers,French oarsmen and Harvard rowers. 

Do the  genetic endowments that world class endurance athletes possess that facilitate their athletic ability also either alone or with other genetic contributions enable to live longer? Alternatively is it the long hours and perhaps years of exercise that lead to a long life? Maybe both.

A key, perhaps the key,to be a world class endurance athlete is a high maximum oxygen uptake (02Max).Although intense aerobic training can increase one's 02 max a moderate amount  (maybe 10-15%),world class endurance athletes inherit high 02 max values. A typical 25 year old man may have a value of 40-45 ml/kilo/minute while a budding world class marathon runner typically has a value of 80 or higher with few exceptions.Values as high as 90 have been recorded in some world champion cross country skiers. 

The prodigious exercise capacity of elite endurance athletes is characterized by a slightly larger than normal ventricular size with great capacity to fill quickly.

The maximal oxygen capacity of humans inexorably decreases over time.Whether continuing moderate or even high levels of aerobic exercise will mitigate that rate of loss is the topic of an ongoing debate.

 What is clear,however, is that if you have for example a 02Max of 60 or 70 when you are thirty years old you are more likely to have a 02 max in the high 20s or low 30's when you are 75 or eighty.

A  80 year old with a 02 max of 28 is more likely to come out the other side of a serious illness or accident than an 80 years with an 02 max of 18 or 20. 

 Practice,practice practice arguably may get you to Carnegie Hall but someone with a 02 max of 45 will not win the Olympic marathon regardless of how much training he endures and you will not have a 02 max of 50 when you are 80 years ( Ed Whitlock had an 02 Max of 52 at age 82))  unless you  had a very high  02 max in your youth.

For more on Ed Whitlock and how he slowed down marathon time wise during his 70's while his O2 Max seemingly was unchanged, see here.

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