Dr Peter Attia is a Canadian physician who has made a name for himself thanks to his lucid books, blogs and talks on longevity. In this blog he & Dr Kathryn Birkenbach use the example of a 93-year old man – who recently took to exercise – to underscore how positively exercise influences our bodies:
“One of the questions I’m asked most frequently is, “am I too old for exercise to make a difference?” The answer is always a great, big, resounding, “NO.”…
Substantial evidence from intervention studies and observational research has demonstrated an array of positive health effects of physical activity in older populations, but sometimes, the most powerful inspiration comes instead from the stories of individuals. Recently, I came across an example of such a story – one so remarkable it simply needed to be shared, and which I hope will serve to remind all of us, regardless of age or fitness level, that exercise is a critical element of any formula for healthy aging.
Meet Richard Morgan, a 93-year-old rowing champion.
Twenty years ago, Richard Morgan, a then-73-year-old retiree from County Cork, Ireland, attended one of his grandson’s college rowing practices. Though Morgan hadn’t devoted any attention to physical activity in his life up to that point, the coach offered to let him use one of the machines, and he accepted.
Fast-forward to present day, and 93-year-old Morgan is a four-time world champion in indoor rowing, most recently winning the 2022 title in the 90-94 age division. He rows nearly 20 miles every week, mainly (~70%) at low intensity, with 20% at moderate intensity and 10% at high intensity. Altogether, he is estimated to have achieved a cumulative rowing distance of nearly ten times the circumference of the Earth over the last two decades, in addition to maintaining a resistance training regimen with dumbbells approximately twice per week.”
Recently, doctors & physicians have studied Richard Morgan’s body and what they have found has astonished them: “Body composition measurements determined Morgan to have high muscle mass (105 lbs; 80.6% of total body mass) and a body fat percentage of 15.4% – values that would fall within a healthy range for a man half his age. Equally impressive were his metrics of cardiopulmonary function and physical performance. Morgan’s forced vital capacity, a measure of lung function, was reported to be 3.36 L, a value more typical of men in their 40s or 50s. In a 2,000-meter time trial on a rowing ergometer, the nonagenarian demonstrated exceptional cardiovascular adaptation to exercise, with his heart rate rapidly rising to a peak of 153 beats/min and oxygen uptake kinetics (a measure of time required to adapt to a changing metabolic load) approximating those of a healthy man in his 30s or 40s. These results were all the more remarkable given that Morgan had only started exercising in his 70s – building up his fitness, as he says, “from nowhere.””
The moral of the story say Doctors Attia & Birkenbach is: “The so-called “normal” trajectories of age-related physical decline are not predestined and unavoidable. The mere fact that Morgan exhibits the body composition and cardiovascular fitness expected of a much younger man is evidence that the human body is capable of sustaining a high level of physical health far longer than many assume could be possible, and collective evidence from research strongly indicates that regular exercise is a necessary and powerful means for achieving this.
But perhaps the most inspiring aspect of Morgan’s story is that no one is ever too old to reap the benefits of physical activity. One of Morgan’s grandsons (also an author on the case study) describes his grandfather as having shown “huge benefits in sense [sic] of mood and energy levels” since he incorporated rowing into his life in his early 70s, and other evidence tells us that even later starts can see similar rewards.”
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