Relationship between physiological loss, performance decrement, and age in master athletes

J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2001 Oct;56(10):M618-26. doi: 10.1093/gerona/56.10.m618.


Background: The use of master athletes to describe an idealized rate of physiological loss associated with aging is quite common. The results of such studies suggest that older athletes may be able to reduce the rate of decline in functional loss. The findings of such studies have been questioned due to their limited sample size and the age range and gender of their subjects.

Methods: We examined a group of 146 male and 82 female master athletes over the age of 40 years. Physiological parameters included maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max), body composition, muscle strength, bone density, and blood chemistries. Medical histories and training records were obtained via questionnaire.

Results: Results demonstrated gender differences in body composition, blood chemistries, blood pressure, VO2max, muscle strength, bone density, and performance (p <.05). All metabolic parameters for men and most for women demonstrated significant losses across the age range (p <.05). In addition, strength and performance for men and women and bone density for women declined significantly with age (p <.05). The demonstrated loss rates did not differ by gender.

Conclusions: Although limited by the lack of a sedentary comparison group, these data suggest that age-related losses in VO2max may not be different from data previously reported for older sedentary adults and that loss in muscle strength and performance with aging is not linear.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Blood Chemical Analysis
  • Body Composition
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Electrocardiography
  • Exercise Test
  • Female
  • Hemodynamics / physiology
  • Humans
  • Lactic Acid / metabolism
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Physical Endurance / physiology*
  • Physical Fitness*
  • Probability
  • Running / physiology*
  • Sampling Studies
  • Sex Factors


  • Lactic Acid