SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA. It is generally accepted that aging brings with it a loss of aerobic capacity and a related poorer quality of life, a reduced chance of surviving emergencies, and a greater risk for many diseases. An intriguing question is "Can regular aerobic exercise counteract this decline in aerobic capacity?" Researchers at the San Diego State University now provide at least a partial answer to this question. In 1964 they enrolled 15 randomly chosen men aged 33 to 56 years in a study that was to last for 33 years. The men were all active joggers or swimmers at the time of enrollment and continued their aerobic activities throughout the study. Their specific activities changed somewhat over the years and basically consisted of walking, swimming, cycling or jogging 3-4 times per week for an hour or more at 77-84 per cent of heart rate reserve. All participants survived for at least 25 years after enrollment and 11 of them were still alive at the experiment's conclusion 33 years later.
Participants underwent thorough clinical evaluations nine times during the study. Very
little change was observed in heart rate, blood pressure, and body composition. Oxygen
uptake (a measurement of aerobic fitness) declined by about six per cent per decade as
compared to the 10 per cent expected in the general population. Maximum heart rate fell
by about one beat per year, which again is well below the expected drop. Of particular
interest is the fact that none of the men developed hypertension. This contrasts
favourably with the 60 per cent incidence of hypertension in the general population over
65 years of age in the United States.
The researchers conclude that adherence to a long-term aerobic training program reduces
the effect of aging on cardiovascular function.