The aim was to investigate performance variables and indicators of cardiovascular health profile in elderly soccer players (SP, n = 11) compared to endurance-trained (ET, n = 8), strength-trained (ST, n = 7) and untrained (UT, n = 7) age-matched men. The 33 men aged 65-85 years underwent a testing protocol including measurements of cycle performance, maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) and body composition, and muscle fibre types and capillarisation were determined from m. vastus lateralis biopsy. In SP, time to exhaustion was longer (16.3 ± 2.0 min; P < 0.01) than in UT (+48%) and ST (+41%), but similar to ET (+1%). Fat percentage was lower (P < 0.05) in SP (-6.5% points) than UT but not ET and ST. Heart rate reserve was higher (P < 0.05) in SP (104 ± 16 bpm) than UT (+21 bpm) and ST (+24 bpm), but similar to ET (+2 bpm), whereas VO2max was not significantly different in SP (30.2 ± 4.9 ml O2 · min(-1) · kg(-1)) compared to UT (+14%) and ST (+9%), but lower (P < 0.05) than ET (-22%). The number of capillaries per fibre was higher (P < 0.05) in SP than UT (53%) and ST (42%) but similar to ET. SP had less type IIx fibres than UT (-12% points). In conclusion, the exercise performance and cardiovascular health profile are markedly better for lifelong trained SP than for age-matched UT controls. Incremental exercise capacity and muscle aerobic capacity of SP are also superior to lifelong ST athletes and comparable to endurance athletes.
Keywords: association football; body composition; heart rate reserve; maximal oxygen uptake; muscle capillarisation; muscle fibre types.