A few years ago, Robert Marchand broke the cycling hour record for centurions. When scientists studied his body and tracked his progress, they learned that there is no upper age limit to training.
In 2014, the then 103-year-old French endurance athlete cycled 16.7 miles in one hour, the farthest anyone over 100 has gone, breaking his own record set two years earlier, as a 101-year-old when he pedaled 15.1 miles in an hour. In the two years between the events, researchers from the University of Evry-Val d'Essonne in France studied and monitored his physical progress and then published their findings in the Journal of Applied Physiology. It was one of the most definitive studies of how people over the age of 100 adapt physiologically and physically to exercise.
“Almost all humans respond to training,” says Michael Joyner, a physiologist at the Mayo Clinic who studies how humans react to physical and mental stress during exercise. Marchand had a lot going for him—previously good health, a solid support team, and a structured fitness program that was tailored to his ability level. "Marchand shows that theoretically that there’s no upper age limits to training," says Joyner. In other words, anyone at any age who's willing to work hard will see results.
Scientists tracked everything from his VO2 max and peak power output to max heart rate and body mass. Here are the most interesting takeaways.
His VO2 Max increased. - VO2 Max is the measurement that tells you how much oxygen your body is able to take in and use at maximum exertion. Marchand’s increased 13% in two years (between ages 101 and 103). His level at 103 was equivalent to those of a fit 42 to 61 year-old man
And by adapted his body to be able to consume and use more oxygen, he was able to output more energy. His Peak Power Output Increased by 39 Percent, from 90 watts to 125 watts from one record to the next. His pedaling cadence increased from 69 rotations per minute to 90.
"That’s a 30 percent increase between the ages of 101 and 103."
In the two years between records, Marchand biked a total of 10,000 kilometers and stuck to a healthy, balanced Diet, with very little meat, tons of vegetables and fruits, bread, and wine every day.
Granted, he is something of an anomaly - and the “poster child” for stick-to-it-iveness - having the mental discipline to stay fit for so many years. He shows us that staying fit can offset some of the ailments of growing old, such as greatly reducing the chance of becoming disabled or injured, and that aging is inevitable, but people with regular levels of physical activity can slow it down... you just have to want to do the work...