Log In

Reset Password

Want to minimize aging? Consider maximizing exercise time

It doesn’t matter if you’re 24, 44, or 64.

A carnivore, an omnivore, or an herbivore. A mesomorph, an ectomorph, or an endomorph.

One who fasts or one who grazes. One who always cooks healthy meals or usually dines after the microwave beeps three times.

One who runs long distances or lifts heavy weights. One who wears out walking partners or furniture cushions.

It doesn’t even matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican.

Every day, you age a little bit more.

It’s a never-ending process that affects virtually everything you physically do. And some mental processes, too: how you think about the world, how you feel about yourself, and, yes, how you view exercise.

For about the first half of your life, getting older is generally good for you physically. But by 35 or so, though, that’s not true.

So what are you going to do about it? Changing your political affiliation to Non-Partisan won’t help the situation, but considering a study published in the September 2022 issue of the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health just might.

Titled “The Impact of Training on the Loss of Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Aging Masters Endurance Athletes,” the study combines the results of six prior long-term studies that tested older elite male and female endurance athletes for as long as 22 years, focusing primarily on VO2 max.

Considered the gold-standard assessment for aerobic fitness, VO2 max measures how quickly the oxygen you breathe into your lungs gets pumped through your arteries to help fuel muscle contractions. Prior research has found that your body’s ability to do that usually begins to decline slightly in your mid-20s.

Initially, the typical rate of loss is about 1% of your VO2 max per year with the likelihood of about a 2% per year slide by the time you hit 55 - and the rate really increases after that. Working out faithfully and intelligently, however, can cut those losses in half.

Still, it’s as inevitable as it is blunt: there’s no escaping age-related fitness loss. The study up for discussion today in no way suggests the opposite.

But it did find many of the older elite male athletes studied lost only 5% of VO2 max per decade - corroborating prior studies that the right sort of exercise as you age can cut fitness loss in half.

But it also determined that being a former elite athlete did not guarantee such a benefit. Some former male elite athletes lost more than 45% of their VO2 max in a 10-year span.

Moreover, the researchers found that 54% of the fitness lost by all the aging male endurance athletes, whether they lost 5 or 45% of their VO2 max per decade, could be explained “by changes in training volume.”

Please note the use of the quotation marks. They mean, of course, that the phrase is written exactly that way in the study.

The use of that phrase is important because of the implication behind it. An implication that may very well change the course of how we exercise to lessen aging.

The quoted phrase does not include any mention of training intensity.

Prior to this study, most experts felt the most effective way to ameliorate aging through exercise was to attempt to work out in a given week with the same perceived degree of intensity you once did. But there’s a problem with that: exercising intensely later in life takes far more of a toll on the body than it once did.

As a result, experts also advised an increase in weekly recovery time, which invariably lessened the total amount of exercise time. This new study, though, found lessening the total amount of exercise time to be responsible for a bit more than half of the fitness lost in the aging elite male masters athletes.

So you might want to try what has worked so well for Hans Sweets. Granted, he’s only one guy, and I am forever telling you that no two of them are ever totally alike, but this one’s 76 years old and still occasionally runs 50 miles in a week.

Sweets told Alex Hutchinson, a writer who writes about Sweets in an Outside magazine article about aging and exercise, that he attributes his ability handle that high degree of exercise volume despite his age - and while avoiding injury - to doing most of his running at “an easy pace.”

Even though his pace is far from easy when he decides to race.

In 2022, he ran 1500 meters (1609.4 meters equal a mile) in 5:16, good enough for the second fastest time ever recorded in the 75-to-79 age group.

While it’s true clocking world-class times in whatever exercise you do is unlikely to motivate you, who doesn’t want to feel good and function well for as long as possible?

Maximizing exercise time seems to lead to that. Even if you need to back off of the intensity a bit.