Background: There is a progressive decline in the functional capacity (FC) of the cardiovascular system with aging. This deterioration is reflected in a decrease in the maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max). The purpose of this quantitative review was to determine the effects of various components of the exercise prescription on FC in older individuals (ages 46-90 years).
Methods: This study synthesized the results of 27 studies by meta-analysis, which generated a total of 34 effect sizes. Each effect size represented an independent measure of the impact of physical training on maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max). A total of 720 subjects were included in this review. The studies were coded according to intensity, session duration, length of training and mode of exercise.
Results: A significant difference was found (p < 0.001) in FC between studies in which the intensity of exercise was > or = to 80% of VO2max compared to those with training intensities of 60-75% of VO2max. A significant difference was found (p < 0.002) for exercise duration; namely, a duration of > or = 30 minutes produced significantly greater improvements in VO2max when compared to an exercise duration less than 30 minutes. There was no significant difference reported in FC between studies that lasted 15 or more weeks in duration compared to those that lasted less than 15 weeks. Finally, there was no significant difference reported in FC in studies that utilized a walk/jog training mode compared to those which utilized cycle ergometry.
Conclusions: Despite the inevitable decline in VO2max with aging, exercise training imparts favorable adaptations in FC in individuals well into their seventh and eighth decades of life.