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Saturday, April 01, 2017

Centenarian Vigour

"We can improve VO2max and performance at every age."
"[However, Mr. Marchand is] very optimistic, with many friends [studies link social ties with longer life. His simple diet of yogurt, soup, cheese, chicken and one glass of red wine does not reflect most peoples']."
"[Yet his example is inspiring for those who aspire to age well]."
"[B]eyond the establishment of new performance records at an extremely old age, the possibility for improving their performance and maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) during this last period of life is a way for 'adding life to the life' rather than searching to 'kill the death'."
"This study shows for the first time that, at a very old age, VO2max and performance could still be increased with training."
Dr. Veronique Billat, professor of exercise science, University of Evry-Val d'Essonne, France
French cyclist Robert Marchand cycling aging elderly
AP Photo/Thibault Camus
Robert Marchand is quite the person. Standing at a full [diminutive] 1.5 meters in height, weighing 52 kilo he might not appear at first sight an impressive figure. Although seeing a man of 105 dressed in the bright gear usually associated with biking enthusiasts might cause anyone to do a double-take. This man, however, is unique in a way that men of his age do not normally tend to be. He has the enthusiasm of a 20-year-old and the energy and drive of a 50-year-old. Now that's distinctive.

The working life of this man was as a truck driver. He had also done stints as a gardener, a firefighter, and lumberjack. Most often, when people think of others accomplished at physical tasks they conjure up visions of big, strapping fellows. The reality is, however, that pound for pound, lithe, short and muscular men are able to exert more muscle than their tall and hefty counterparts. Just watch a moving crew in action.

Once this man retired he took up the habit of daily recreational cycling. He cycled on the suburban Paris roads close to his home and also on an indoor trainer, but all the cycling he engaged in was at a leisurely pace, just enjoying himself. Now, the physiology of this remarkable man, has become the subject of a scientific study, one that saw publication in the Journal of Applied Physiology. And the findings from the study may alter how we regard the aging body and how athletic pursuits can prolong life.

Dr. Billat professionally engages in the study of professional and recreational athletes, and is also involved in their training. She found Mr. Marchand's demonstrated physical pursuit and prowess in cycling of great interest. He had competed in cycling events for centenarians, and pedaled over 22.54 kilometers to set a global benchmark for his age group. And Dr. Billat thought of testing the wisdom in exercise science that held that fitness declines after age 50, irrespective of frequent exercise.

She  had previously satisfied herself through research that if older athletes engaged in intense exercise they could indeed increase their V02max, and now wanted to test the method on someone of Mr. Marchand's age; Mr. Marchand himself in fact, since he has no competitors in his field of excellence matching his age. The university human performance laboratory tested his heart rate and allied indices of cardiorespiratory fitness, finding all indices healthy, substantially above average.

Mr. Marchand was also exceptional in that at his age he was not on any medication regimen. Dr. Billat placed her new test subject on a new training regimen where 80 percent of his workouts were to be performed at an easy intensity while the remaining 20 percent was performed at a difficult intensity, over a period of two years. At that point he made the effort to increase his one hour track world record of 24.25 kilometers.
French cyclist Robert Marchand
AP Photo/Thibault Camus

All the physiological markers tested two years previously were re-tested, and the discovery made that Mr. Marchand's V02max was 13 percent higher than before, and he had increased pedaling power, to an increase of close to 40 percent. He then pedaled for almost 27 kilometers at 105 years of age. While Dr. Billat was more than satisfied with the results, Mr. Marchand claimed not to be, and intends to improve his distance, targeting age 106.

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