Maximal oxygen uptake, muscle strength and walking speed in 85-year-old women: effects of increased physical activity


Institute of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, University of Southern Denmark, Odense University, Denmark.


This study explores the effect of regular training on blood pressure, maximal oxygen uptake, maximal isometric muscle strength, and walking speed in the very old. A total of 55 community-dwelling women, 85-year-old, were enrolled in a training group (N = 22) or a control group (N = 33). These groups were reduced to 19 and 26 subjects, respectively, after the training period. Training was performed once a week over eight months, and consisted of various exercises with particular attention to movements important for everyday activities. Training reduced diastolic blood pressure (p < 0.05), and showed a similar trend for systolic blood pressure. Measurements of maximal oxygen uptake before the start of the training (15 mL min-1 kg-1) revealed a level close to the presumed limit for independent living (13 mL min-1 kg-1). Training improved VO2 max by 18% (p < 0.05), whereas the control group experienced a trend towards a reduction. Maximal isometric muscle strength of both the right and left leg showed a tendency to increase with training, but no significant changes were evident in the trunk flexor and extensor muscles. The training group showed a significant increase of 17% in maximal walking speed after the training period. However, one year later, without training, this improvement was reduced to 8% (p < 0.05). No major changes were observed in the control group for any of these parameters. This study demonstrates a maximal oxygen capacity in very old community-dwelling women close to a threshold level indicating dependency. Furthermore, 8 months of regular training appears to lower blood pressure, and to increase maximal oxygen uptake and maximal walking speed. This suggests that physical reactivation of the very old may reduce the risk for acquiring age-related diseases associated with an elevated blood pressure, and may improve parameters crucial for independence.