At 93, he is as fit as a 40-year-old. His body offers lessons about aging.

For lessons on how to age well, you could do worse than turn to Richard Morgan.

At 93, Ireland's four-time world indoor rowing champion has the aerobic engine and whippet's body fat percentage of a healthy 30- or 40-year-old. He is also an object A new case studyPublished last month in the Journal of Applied Physiology, it looked at his training, diet and physiology.

The results are that, in many ways, he is a model of fit, healthy aging — an ageless man with the heart, muscles and lungs of someone less than half his age. But in other ways, he's ordinary: a one-time baker and battery maker, with creaky knees, he didn't take up regular exercise until he was 70, and he still practices mostly in his backyard shed.

Although her fitness routine began late in life, she has now rowed around the world nearly 10 times and won four world championships. So, the researchers wondered, what did his late-life exercise do to his aging body?

Lessons on aging from active aging

“If we want to understand aging, we need to look at very active older people,” said Baz van Huren, a doctoral researcher at Maastricht University in the Netherlands and one of the study's authors.

Many questions remain unanswered about the biology of aging, and whether the general decline in body weight and muscle mass that occurs as we age is normal and inevitable, or at least due to a lack of exercise.

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The implication is that if some people can stay strong and fit deep into their golden years, so can many of us, he said.

Helpfully, his colleague Lorcan Daly, an assistant lecturer in exercise science at Shannon University of Technology in Ireland, was familiar with the example of successful aging. Her grandfather Morgan, the 2022 indoor-rowing world champion, lightweight, is between 90 and 94.

Most interesting to the researchers was the fact that Morgan didn't start playing sports or exercising until he was 73 years old. Retired and somewhat relaxed, he attended rowing lessons with one of his other grandsons, a competitive college rower. . The trainer invited him to use one of the machines.

“He never looked back,” Daly said.

Highest heart rate ever recorded

Morgan, then 92, was brought to a physiology laboratory at the University of Limerick in Ireland, where they measured his height, weight and body composition, and collected details of his diet. They checked his metabolism and heart and lung function.

Then they had him get on a rowing machine and run a 2,000-meter time trial while they monitored his heart, lungs, and muscles.

“It was one of the most exciting days I've ever spent in the lab,” said Philip Jackman, professor of healthy ageing, physical performance and nutrition at the University of Limerick and senior author of the study.

Morgan proved an ageless powerhouse, his 165 pounds composed of about 80 percent muscle and 15 percent fat, a body composition considered healthy for a younger man for decades.

During the time trial, his heart rate was 153 beats per minute, which was higher than the maximum heart rate expected for his age and among the highest peaks ever recorded for someone in his 90s, researchers believe, indicating a very strong heart.

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His heart rate also went up very quickly towards this peak, meaning his heart was able to deliver oxygen and fuel to his working muscles more quickly. This “oxygen uptake kinetics,” a key indicator of cardiovascular health, is comparable to that of a typical, healthy 30- or 40-year-old, Daly said.

Exercise for 40 minutes a day

Perhaps most impressively, he developed this fitness with simple, relatively brief exercise, the researchers noted.

  • Stability: Every week, he rows about 30 kilometers (about 18.5 miles) for an average of 40 minutes a day.
  • A mix of easy, moderate and vigorous exercise: 70 percent of these workouts are easy, and Morgan works hard. Another 20 percent are at a hard but tolerable pace, and the final 10 percent are at an all-out, barely consistent intensity.
  • Weight Training: Two or three times a week, he weight-trains and uses adjustable dumbbells to complete three sets of lunges and curls, repeating each movement until his muscles are too tired.
  • High protein diet: He eats a lot of protein, his daily consumption usually exceeds the usual dietary recommendation of 60 grams of protein for someone his weight.

How exercise changes our age

“This is an interesting case study that sheds light on our understanding of exercise adaptation across the lifespan,” said Scott Trapp, director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State University in Indiana, who has studied many older athletes but was not involved in the new study.

“We are still learning about late initiation of an exercise program, but the evidence is very clear that the human body maintains the ability to adapt to exercise at any age,” he added.

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In fact, Morgan's fitness and physical strength at age 93 means “we don't have to lose” large amounts of muscle and aerobic capacity as we age, Jackman said. Regardless of our age, exercise can help us build and maintain a strong, efficient body, he said.

Of course, Morgan may have some genetic advantage, the scientists point out. Rowing talent runs in the family.

His race performances in recent years have been slower than they were 15, 10 or even five years ago. Exercise does not reverse the effects of aging. But it can slow our body's losses, Morgan's example seems to tell us. It can level the decline.

It also offers other, less physical rewards. “There's a certain joy in reaching the world championships,” Morgan told me through his grandson, with an almost comical self-consciousness.

“I started from nowhere and I suddenly realized that there was a lot of joy in doing this,” he said.

Do you have a fitness question? Email [email protected] We may answer your question in a future column.

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