Getting Older, Staying Fast!



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First, let’s discuss human physiological responses.

Sports and exercise have seen a remarkable expansion in applying scientific principles in recent decades, especially in the field of physiology. Practitioners quickly realize the importance of basic physiological knowledge for better results. Exercise physiology has been a respected field for many years, using exercise to perturb physiological systems to see how they behave under stress. Exercise physiologists have established the ceilings for human physiological responses and the factors that limit performance in various conditions.

The capacity for physical performance in various competitive sports events largely depends on an individual’s integrated status of different physiological mechanisms. Factors include the state of health and the physiological response-ability to meet the competitive situational challenges. An optimum level of performance is achieved through developing these responses via training. Therefore, the primary purpose of physiological research is to evaluate and monitor the training schedule effectively.

The most important physiological factor for high performance in a marathon is a high aerobic capacity or VO2 max. Aerobic capacity, as measured by maximum oxygen uptake (VO2 max), is a major determining factor in long-term endurance sports performance. VO2 max is restricted to only the individuals’ cardiorespiratory capacity relating to the O2 uptake, transport, and utilization. Maximal oxygen intake may be the most physiologically significant and most commonly measured parameter in the physiological assessment of well-trained athletes. There is a linear correlation between VO2 max and distance running performance, where the correlation coefficient varies from 0.52 to 0.98.

Individuals who can consume a lot of oxygen need to supplement this with a rigorous training program to achieve maximal performance. If they engage in endurance events, they must also develop the ability to maintain a high fraction of their maximal oxygen uptake (%VO2 max) and become efficient in performing their activity. This hypothesis is the concept of anaerobic threshold or lactate threshold, or aerobic to the anaerobic transition point. During exercise of increasing intensity, there is a rise in blood lactate concentration, and this response was first reported half a century ago.

Anaerobic Threshold Concept

The point at which metabolic acidosis and the associated changes in gas exchange occur during exercise is known as the Anaerobic Threshold/Lactate Threshold. To put it another way, during incremental exercise, at a certain intensity, a nonlinear, steep increase in the ventilatory Anaerobic Threshold and a nonlinear increase in blood lactate concentration (the Lactate Threshold) produces an increase in CO2 production, an increase in end-tidal oxygen, and an increase in the arterial lactate level, known as the onset of blood lactate accumulation (OBLA). These metrics are collectively known as the anaerobic threshold (AT). The ventilatory anaerobic threshold is believed to be directly related to and caused by the blood lactate threshold.

Evidence suggests that individuals with a higher VO2 max have more endurance capacity. Highly trained athletes can perform at a high percentage of their VO2 max with little to no lactate accumulation. Furthermore, it has been shown that trained athletes tend to accumulate less lactate than untrained athletes when performing at a given submaximal workload.

Anaerobic threshold is a determinant of physiological fitness. Lactate concentration in blood during exercise results from increased glycogenolysis. It is important to remember that glycogenolysis concentration is, at any time, the result of a balance between the rate of production and removal; however, during exercise of increasing intensity, the rise in blood lactate concentration indicates an increase in glycogen metabolism.

Endurance Performance and Anaerobic Threshold

Lack of oxygen is what limits humans from being able to exercise to their fullest potential. This is backed up by three main points: how oxygen delivery affects VO2 max, how training affects VO2 max, and how skeletal muscle O2 affects VO2 max. The metabolic adaptations are important for endurance but not as crucial as oxygen delivery. Running economy, VO2 max, and the speed to lactate threshold are all essential variables that affect endurance performance. The lactate threshold is the best physiological predictor of distance running performance.

The anaerobic threshold is a point at which athletes’ bodies produce more lactic acid than they can remove, usually seen during high-intensity sports. Now let’s meet some of the world’s oldest athletes and discover their secrets for staying young!

Age is no barrier: meet the world’s oldest top athletes

Eddy Diget: personal trainer.

Eddy Diget
People say I’m the oldest personal trainer in the country.

My mom visited me when I was 16 while I fished at Tooting Bec ponds. She had a black eye and told me my dad was in a bad mood and coming to find me. Suddenly, my dad came down the hill and started punching me, but I could fight back and beat him since I was coming up to a brown sash in kung fu at the time. I blinded him in one eye, but we became the best of mates after that, and he was a different man who never touched my mom again.

The over-50s and over-60s have become more educated about being fit in recent years. They are more aware of the benefits that can come from working out.

I train people who have had cancer, people in wheelchairs, people with chronic regional pain syndrome, and amputees. I also train Ironmen, ultra-marathon runners, and an Olympic fencer. I feel very privileged and honored to have such a diverse group of clients. Personal training is not just about the training itself; it’s much more about the person.

I had never been ill in 74 years, or even been inside a hospital, until last year when I was diagnosed with bowel cancer through the NHS bowel screening program. I had surgery to remove a section of my bowel and was discharged that evening. I’ve been very lucky because I haven’t experienced any pain thanks to my fitness levels – the consultant commented on this before my surgery. Despite this, I remain a fatalist; there’s nothing I can do about it, and I’m just grateful I caught it early. Now I feel amazing – better than ever.

Ida Keeling: Harlem, New York

Ida Keeling
Ida Keeling Kept It Moving!

I grew up in Harlem, USA, in the San Juan Hill area – which is now called Hell’s Kitchen. I was one of eight children. Everybody was poor. The economic conditions were already quite bad even before the Great Depression. But there are happy memories too.

We hung swings from the fire escapes at the back of buildings. And on Saturdays, the bigger boys from around the corner would turn up with a pail and a couple of wooden spoons to drum on it, and we’d do the Charleston, the drag, and everything else. We played hooky from school to go and watch the Lindy Hop dancers at the Apollo. We had some good times coming from bad times. But Harlem changed when drugs came in. Everybody wanted to make this quick money. And it dragged in my sons.

I felt like I was trapped, but the more I ran, the faster and stronger I became. As I was running like crazy, I was no longer afraid of death. I belonged to track and field from then on. I decided that sprinting was faster and more my style. I wanted to go as fast as possible.

I’m not as fast as I used to be. But I go as far as I can, and if I start a race, I finish it. I’m always the winner for my age group because I don’t have any competition. I’m usually chasing myself. But I go with what I’ve got left. I go to the gym, I ride my bike, I work out, I stretch, I reach, I do push-ups, I do upper weights, I get on the floor and turn my feet up over my head, and when I don’t get out, I stay right here and work out in my room. My doctor says I’m as healthy as a 25-year-old. I have no intention of slowing down. Age ain’t got nothing to do with it. When you really want to do something for yourself, go and do it. And if you fail, try, try, try again.

Fauja Singh: marathon runner

Fauja Singh
“I want the young to be inspired to take up physical activity and maintain it through their lives.”

I was raised in a happy environment as a weak child. I couldn’t walk until I was five. I wanted to be athletic, but I didn’t have the strength. I enjoyed watching all the common sports available in the rural area. I remember the happiness when I became strong enough to walk.

While I never attended school, I spent my entire career farming. This allowed me to run after any straying cattle, but that was the most exciting part of the job.

I started running competitively when I was 20 and living in England.

The reaction to my attempt to run a marathon at 89 was mixed. Some people were excited to see if I could do it, while others doubted it was possible. The most supportive people are my coach, Harmander; my running club, Sikhs in the City; and my family.

My coach made training easy by always giving clear instructions. He never let me get too exhausted during training runs because he said it’s good to train but not strain. During the race, I was amazed by the support from the crowds along the route. My coach always ran alongside me and held me back from going too fast at the beginning of the race. Later, he encouraged me to keep going when the race got tough. I also started talking to God to help me get through to the finish.

Although I never ran with the intention of winning, I would always try to finish a race as quickly as possible. My records are simply a result of my age and not because I was trying to set any. I hope that someone will eventually break them and wish them the best of luck. If my marathon running at my age has inspired others not to give up, then I am happy to have positively impacted society.

I used to run a lot, but my last race was the Hong Kong 10km in 2013. I cannot run now because I have a hernia, but I remember how good it felt. I’m just happy that I’m still able to walk around. I walk about five miles every day.

To me, freedom is being able to move around independently and having a good mental attitude and outlook. The rest is beyond my control.

Fauja Singh has been awarded the British Empire Medal. He is thought to be the oldest person to complete a marathon, but as India did not issue birth certificates in 1911, the record is deemed unofficial.