Physiologic basis for the age-related decline in aerobic work capacity

Am J Cardiol. 1986 Jun 1;57(15):1374-9. doi: 10.1016/0002-9149(86)90221-3.


To determine the physiologic mechanisms of the decline in aerobic work performance with age, a cross-sectional study was performed. Twenty-four sedentary male volunteers, aged 20 to 50 years, underwent right-sided cardiac catheterization, arterial cannulation, radionuclide angiography and expired gas analysis for detailed evaluation of central and peripheral cardiovascular function during submaximal and maximal exercise. Habitual physical activity level varied but was well matched across the age range. Over the 3-decade age range studied, there was no detectable change in cardiovascular function at rest. When peak exercise variables were examined, an age-related 25% decrease in O2 consumption was noted (r = -0.43, p = 0.04); this was associated with a 25% decrease in peak cardiac index (r = -0.54, p = 0.01) and a 20% decrease in peak heart rate (r = -0.63, p = 0.002). In addition, there was an age-related increase in calculated systemic and pulmonary vascular resistances and an increase in left ventricular ejection time. No age relation was seen for exercise stroke volume index, end-diastolic volume index, end-systolic volume index, pulmonary artery wedge pressure, ejection fraction or arteriovenous O2 difference. These results indicate that the age-related decline in aerobic work performance among men aged 20 to 50 years results primarily from a reduced exercise heart rate in older subjects rather than from a reduction in stroke volume or peripheral O2 utilization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aerobiosis
  • Aging*
  • Cardiovascular Physiological Phenomena*
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Heart / diagnostic imaging
  • Hemodynamics
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Physical Exertion
  • Physical Fitness
  • Radionuclide Imaging