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Elite Distance Runners: A 45-Year Follow-Up

Everman Sarah; Farris, James W.; Bay, R. Curtis; Daniels, Jack T.
Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: Post Acceptance: August 16, 2017
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001407
Original Investigation: PDF Only

ABSTRACTPurposeThe present longitudinal study assessed cardiorespiratory capacity and running economy of Olympic athletes over several decades to measure changes in fitness in an elite group during aging.MethodsTwenty-six male runners training for the 1968 Olympics were recruited. Heart rate, O2max, ventilation, and running economy were measured in 1968, 1993, and 2013. In 2013, 22 of the original runners participated: three passed away between 1993 and 2013, and one declined to participate.ResultsThe mean (±SD) maximum heart rate (bpm) was 178±10.6 in 1968, 176±13.1 in 1993, and 168±16.4 in 2013 with a difference from the predicted maximum heart rates in 1968 and 2013 (both P<.001). The mean (±SD) V[Combining Dot Above]O2max (mL·min−1·kg−1) was 78±3.1 in 1968, 57±6.7 in 1993, and 42±8.9 in 2013. V[Combining Dot Above]O2max based on the original body weight (mL·min−1·kg−1) in 1993 and 2013 were 65±6.0 and 47±8.1, respectively, which were higher than the measured V[Combining Dot Above]O2max values at those times (both P<.001). V[Combining Dot Above]Emax (L·min−1) was 177±13.1 in 1968, 150±24.9 in 1993, and 118±22.5 in 2013; and declined at each time (all P<.001). The decline in V[Combining Dot Above]Emax predicted (P<.001) the decline in V[Combining Dot Above]O2max (R2 for 1993 = .500; R2 for 2013 = .567). Running economy (mL·kg−1·km−1) was 196±7.0 in 1968, 205±16.5 in 1993, and 240±27.0 in 2013; and was greater in 2013 than in 1993 and 1968 (both P≤.001).ConclusionOur data suggested that higher initial fitness in younger years contributed to higher fitness with aging despite an expected age-related drop in fitness. Also, older adults could maintain high levels of cardiorespiratory fitness as they age. Expectations for fitness during aging should be more robust, especially since higher fitness could bolster quality of life.

Purpose

The present longitudinal study assessed cardiorespiratory capacity and running economy of Olympic athletes over several decades to measure changes in fitness in an elite group during aging.

Methods

Twenty-six male runners training for the 1968 Olympics were recruited. Heart rate, O2max, ventilation, and running economy were measured in 1968, 1993, and 2013. In 2013, 22 of the original runners participated: three passed away between 1993 and 2013, and one declined to participate.

Results

The mean (±SD) maximum heart rate (bpm) was 178±10.6 in 1968, 176±13.1 in 1993, and 168±16.4 in 2013 with a difference from the predicted maximum heart rates in 1968 and 2013 (both P<.001). The mean (±SD) V[Combining Dot Above]O2max (mL·min−1·kg−1) was 78±3.1 in 1968, 57±6.7 in 1993, and 42±8.9 in 2013. V[Combining Dot Above]O2max based on the original body weight (mL·min−1·kg−1) in 1993 and 2013 were 65±6.0 and 47±8.1, respectively, which were higher than the measured V[Combining Dot Above]O2max values at those times (both P<.001). V[Combining Dot Above]Emax (L·min−1) was 177±13.1 in 1968, 150±24.9 in 1993, and 118±22.5 in 2013; and declined at each time (all P<.001). The decline in V[Combining Dot Above]Emax predicted (P<.001) the decline in V[Combining Dot Above]O2max (R2 for 1993 = .500; R2 for 2013 = .567). Running economy (mL·kg−1·km−1) was 196±7.0 in 1968, 205±16.5 in 1993, and 240±27.0 in 2013; and was greater in 2013 than in 1993 and 1968 (both P≤.001).

Conclusion

Our data suggested that higher initial fitness in younger years contributed to higher fitness with aging despite an expected age-related drop in fitness. Also, older adults could maintain high levels of cardiorespiratory fitness as they age. Expectations for fitness during aging should be more robust, especially since higher fitness could bolster quality of life.

Corresponding author: Sarah Everman, Kinesiology MS Program, College of Graduate Health Studies, A.T. Still University, 5850 E. Still Circle, Mesa, AZ 85206, telephone: 480-219-6125, fax: 1-866-620-8793, e-mail: severman@atsu.edu.

We thank the A.T. Still University Aging Studies Project for supporting some of the travel costs for the participants. The authors have no relationships with companies or manufacturers who may benefit from the results of this study. The results of this study do not constitute endorsement by ACSM. The authors declare that the results of this study are presented clearly, honestly, and without fabrication, falsification, or inappropriate data manipulation.

Accepted for Publication: 11 August 2017

© 2017 American College of Sports Medicine