Background: Cardiovascular capacity declines with aging, as evidenced by declining maximal oxygen uptake (VO(2)max ), with little known about the specific mechanisms of this decline. Our study objective was to assess the effect of a 30-year interval on body composition and cardiovascular response to acute exercise in 5 healthy subjects originally evaluated in 1966.
Methods and results: Anthropometric parameters and the cardiovascular response to acute maximal exercise were assessed with noninvasive techniques. On average, body weight increased 25% (77 versus 100 kg) and percent body fat increased 100% (14% versus 28%), with little change in fat-free mass (66 versus 72 kg). On average, VO(2)max decreased 11% (3.30 versus 2.90 L/min). Likewise, VO(2)max decreased when indexed to total body mass (43 versus 31 mL. kg(-1). min(-1)) or fat-free mass (50 versus 43 mL/kg fat-free mass per minute). Maximal heart rate declined 6% (193 versus 181 bpm) and maximal stroke volume increased 16% (104 versus 121 mL), with no difference observed in maximal cardiac output (20.0 versus 21.4 L/min). Maximal AV oxygen difference declined 15% (16.2 versus 13.8 vol%) and accounted for the entire decrease in cardiovascular capacity.
Conclusions: Cardiovascular capacity declined over the 30-year study interval in these 5 middle-aged men primarily because of an impaired efficiency of maximal peripheral oxygen extraction. Maximal cardiac output was maintained with a decline in maximal heart rate compensated for by an increased maximal stroke volume. Most notably, 3 weeks of bedrest in these same men at 20 years of age (1966) had a more profound impact on physical work capacity than did 3 decades of aging.