By maintaining aerobic fitness through middle age and beyond, people can delay biologican aging up to 12 years and prolong an independent lifestyle during old age, according to an analysis published on April 10, 2008 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, a BMJ Specialty Journal.

Aerobic exercise improves oxygen consumption in the body as well as its use in generating energy, known as metabolism. Examples of aerobic exercise include jogging, and biking. However, one’s maximum aerobic power starts to fall predictably beginning in middle age, decreasing about 5mL/kg/min every decade of life. In a typical sedentary man, by the age of 60 years, the maximal aerobic power will have dropped to about 25 mL/kg/min — this is almost half what it was at age 20. When this ability drops below 18 (in men) or 15 (in women) mL/kg/min, it becomes very difficult to perform daily tasks without severe fatigue.

However, according to evidence shown in this article, regular aerobic exercise can inhibit or even reverse this continuous decline, even later in life. This article combines data from many different sources to conclude that by increasing aerobic capacity, someone’s biological aging can be slowed. Specifically, research shows that high intensity aerobic exercise over a long period boosted maximum aerobic power by 25%. This corresponds to a gain of 6mL/kg/min, or by extrapolation, 10-12 biological years.

The author indicates that this is hopeful news for elderly people. “There seems good evidence that the conservation of maximal oxygen intake increases the likelihood that the healthy elderly person will retain functional independence.” Other potential positive effects could be the reduced risk of serious disease, a shorter recovery time after injury or illness, and the reduced risk of falls thanks to maintenance of muscle power, balance, and coordination. 

Maximal oxygen intake and independence in old age

R J Shephard
Br J Sports Med 2008;0:1-5.
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Written by Anna Sophia McKenney