It’s no secret that sticking to a fitness regimen is good for your body, and even your brain, as you get older. But, as the Washington Post reports this week, the difference between an 80-year-old lifelong endurance athlete and a normal 80-year-old is even bigger than you might have expected.
In a study out of Ball State University in Indiana, researchers tested the cardiovascular fitness of former cross-country skiers in their eighties—one of which was an Olympic champion—and made a rather startling discovery.
Not only were these men likely some of the fittest octogenarians ever tested, but their cardiovascular fitness was “comparable to nonendurance trained men 40 years younger.”
The key may be the workout they gave their hearts all these years.
Benjamin Levine, director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, told the Washington Post that a lifetime of training can help prevent the heart shrinkage and stiffening that begins in late middle age.
But how much exercise is needed to make an impact?
To prevent stiffening of the left ventricle—a common cause of cardiovascular problems—at least four or five days of exercise a week is needed to make a difference, said Dr. Levine to the Post.
In fact, much of what we think of as an age-related decline in fitness may actually be attributable to sustained lack of exercise. According to another study conducted by Levine and colleagues, three weeks of bed rest in 1966 reduced the aerobic fitness of five healthy subjects more than the following 30 years of aging did.
Talk about a wake-up call.