Senior Olympics – Aging and fitness

Ulrik WisløffThe Senior Olympics is a biennial competition for athletes over 50 and consist of a variety of sports, and for this year ́s Games, in and around Minneapolis-St. Paul, in Minnesota, nearly 10,000 men and women aged from 50 to 100 participate. The games begin on Friday 2nd of July. Senior Olympians are not professional athletes, but most train frequently, and tend to be more physically active than other people of the same chronological age.

CERGs Fitness Calculator has been extremely popular worldwide and the calculated Fitness Number was recently shown to be a robust predict of current and future health. CERG is now making the first catalogue of global fitness for “normal people” that could be used for a variety of purposes, especially to define large-scale public health policies. We have now fitness data from exactly 100 countries and on average about 1000 new users worldwide register their fitness and health data every day.

1Also, we aim to study special groups such as the Senior Athletes. In collaboration with Dr. Pamela Peeke at The University of Maryland and board member of the foundation that runs the National Senior Games we are now determining the health status and their Fitness Age. So far we have collected data on more than 5000 of the Senior Athletes before the Games starts, and expect to have data for most of the 10,000 participants within the upcoming week. As can be seen from the figure to the right, Fitness Age in both Senior Olympic men and women was about 25 years lower than their real age.

2This is a massive difference! We had expected a big difference as these people have trained for years and are probably among the fittest in the world in their age groups. However we were surprised it was that big. As can be seen from the figure to the left their peak oxygen uptake (fitness number) is about 13 ml/kg/min higher compared with their healthy, normally active and age matched counterparts.

New York Times: Older Athletes Have a Striking Yong Fitness Age

3The figure to the left show “state-ranking” of Fitness Age based upon data from the first 5000 Senior Athletes that have used the Fitness Calculator. The figure shows difference be tween real age and fitness age. What are the reasons for the huge difference in peak oxygen levels between the Senior Olympic Athletes and their healthy counterparts? For sure the main reason is years of systematic exercise training, but there is no doubt that they also have been lucky with their genes in term of fitness (and then perhaps longevity).

Read also: Test your fitness level – see your cardiovascular risk

Exercise is Medicine. Regardless of the lottery of which genes you were born with, most people can through physical activity and exercise training improve their Fitness Number and reduce their Fitness Age substantially. However, even though the health benefits of exercise are unquestionable and well documented, only 20% of the population worldwide meets current recommendations for physical activity. This fact is alarming because keeping a population physically active outweighs any pharmacological intervention for prevention of age/lifestyle-related diseases. For these reasons, means of increasing adherence to physical activity will have huge impact in public health, and is an issue we address in our research group. To achieve this goal, novel tools to precisely track physical activity levels and motivate users must be developed.

New York Times: What’s Your Fitness Age?

Financial Times: Online calculator estimates chances of early death

4As a first attempt, several electronics manufacturers launched self-measurement devices (“wearable gadgets”) with an overload of features that do not interest the majority of potential users (e.g. sleep quality, skin temperature) and are not based on scientifically proven evidence, thereby failing to (correctly) answer the obvious question: “Am I active enough to stay healthy and live longer?” From a public health perspective, such devices should be able to inform the users on whether they have a sufficiently active lifestyle, and also empower healthcare institutions to follow-up adherence to interventions and recommendations. Obviously, this knowledge must be based on robust epidemiological evidence and a powerful algorithm to link personalized data to individual’s health, and return simple physical activity recommendations that will motivate users. With this in mind, we recently developed such a computational algorithm (which we named Personal Activity Index, PAI), by merging data from population-level studies with excellent health registries. PAI analyses heart rate data during physical activity acquired from the user and provides a single measure for whether his/her current physical activity level is sufficient to obtain or sustain a good health profile. We have robust data from about 60 000 people followed for over 20 years, proving that obtaining a certain weekly PAI is a robust (and shown to be superior to number of minutes of physical activity per week, etc.) predictor of premature all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality.

Detailed data will be published in 2016 and we will come back with more information when that happens. We will release both iOS (Apple) and Android (Samsung) versions of an App about 1st of January 2016, but the first 1-million people that sign up can test a first version of the iOS version of the App already this autumn. Until then, make sure you continue to exercise this summer and at our webpage you will find tips about effective training to improve your Fitness Number and reduce your Fitness Age.

Ulrik Wisløff, Professor and leader of CERG

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