This is Your Life

(Your) 70s+

May 1, 2003
Outside Magazine

80: John McCutchan, weight lifter, runner, and swimmer: "Running flushes the system and gets you into the zone."

YOU ALREADY MET VINCENT CARNEVALE, the perpetual-motion runner and our poster boy for supercharged seniors. Ask him if the scientists who claim that athletes as old as 70 can increase calf-muscle size by 12 percent are right. He'll probably say, "Of course."

The Bad News Experts say that mechanical signs of aging accelerate inexorably after 70. Arthritis becomes more prevalent. VO2 max decreases until your body utilizes more than 50 percent of its aerobic capacity to accomplish daily tasks, threatening your independent lifestyle. Studies indicate severe strength drop-offs: Backs, hands, and biceps all get notably weaker.
The Good News Or do they? In a study that tracked a six-month weight-lifting program for men over 70, the subjects reaped 60 percent increases in peak quadriceps strength. And a separate 12-week training study for participants between 85 and 97 showed 134 percent increases in power.

"It's unclear how far these changes in performance are due to a lessening of training with age versus aging itself," writes exercise physiologist Roy Shephard in his book Aging, Physical Activity, and Health. If you stay active, the medical community might learn a few things from you.

The Prescription With clearance from your doctor, train with similar frequency and intensity as the youngsters. In the gym, using relatively heavy loads and performing as little as one set of only eight reps will generate impressive gains.
The body's thermostat has gone on strike. Sweat glands operate less efficiently, making you more susceptible to heatstroke. Avoid extreme heat. A thinning of the skin layer called the subcutis results in less insulation, which, combined with poorer circulation, makes seniors likelier candidates for hypothermia. Bundle up.

RESEARCH HAS PROVEN that consistent exercise can add two years to your life, and it undoubtedly improves the quality of those years. "People with active lifestyles don't show age-related changes to the same degree as sedentary people," says Christina Geithner. "Your biological age can be different from your chronological age." If you're fit, you'll always act younger than you are.

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