Becoming a World Champion Powerlifter at 71 Years of Age: It Is Never Too Late to Start Exercising

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Cas J. Fuchs Department of Human Biology, School of Nutrition and Translational Research in Metabolism (NUTRIM), Maastricht University Medical Center+ (MUMC+), Maastricht, the Netherlands

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https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3401-465X
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Jorn Trommelen Department of Human Biology, School of Nutrition and Translational Research in Metabolism (NUTRIM), Maastricht University Medical Center+ (MUMC+), Maastricht, the Netherlands

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https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0277-5291
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Michelle E.G. Weijzen Department of Human Biology, School of Nutrition and Translational Research in Metabolism (NUTRIM), Maastricht University Medical Center+ (MUMC+), Maastricht, the Netherlands

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https://orcid.org/0000-0001-6859-7606
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Joey S.J. Smeets Department of Human Biology, School of Nutrition and Translational Research in Metabolism (NUTRIM), Maastricht University Medical Center+ (MUMC+), Maastricht, the Netherlands

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https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2877-0114
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Janneau van Kranenburg Department of Human Biology, School of Nutrition and Translational Research in Metabolism (NUTRIM), Maastricht University Medical Center+ (MUMC+), Maastricht, the Netherlands

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Lex B. Verdijk Department of Human Biology, School of Nutrition and Translational Research in Metabolism (NUTRIM), Maastricht University Medical Center+ (MUMC+), Maastricht, the Netherlands

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https://orcid.org/0000-0002-9196-8767
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Luc J.C. van Loon Department of Human Biology, School of Nutrition and Translational Research in Metabolism (NUTRIM), Maastricht University Medical Center+ (MUMC+), Maastricht, the Netherlands

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https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6768-9231 *
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This case study assessed body composition, muscle strength, cardiorespiratory fitness, and metabolic health of the present female world champion powerlifter in the 70+ age category who started resistance exercise training at 63 years of age with no prior experience with structured exercise training. Measures of body composition (magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography, and dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry scanning, leg volume); strength (one-repetition maximum leg press and extension, maximum voluntary contraction, and handgrip strength); physical function (short physical performance battery); cardiorespiratory fitness (peak oxygen consumption); and metabolic health (oral glucose tolerance test) were assessed. In addition, a muscle biopsy was collected to assess muscle fiber type distribution and cross-sectional area (CSA). Where possible, data were compared with previously (un)published sex- and age-matched data using z scores. Skeletal muscle mass index was calculated by dividing limb muscle mass by height squared. Data from the control groups are expressed as mean ± 95% confidence interval. Our participant (age: 71 years; body mass: 64.5 kg; body mass index: 27.6 kg/m2) reported a good bone mineral density of 1.09 g/cm2 (T score between −1 and +1) and very low values of abdominal and organ body fat (i.e., between 20% and 70% lower compared with a reference group of postmenopausal women). In addition, she showed a 33% greater skeletal muscle mass index when compared with healthy, older female control subjects (7.9 vs. 5.9 [5.7–6.2] kg/m2; n = 61) as well as 37% greater muscle quadriceps CSA (63.8 vs. 46.6 [44.5–48.7] cm2; n = 48) and 46% greater Type II muscle fiber CSA (4,536 vs. 3,097 [2,707–3,488] μm2; n = 19). Absolute leg press muscle strength was 36% greater (190 vs. 140 [132–147] kg; n = 30) and handgrip strength was 33% greater (33 vs. 25 [23–26] kg; n = 48) when compared with healthy, age-matched controls. In conclusion, even for resistance exercise naïve individuals, starting exercise at an advanced age can lead to improvements in body composition and muscle strength allowing older adults to reduce the risk for developing metabolic syndrome, live independently, and even compete at a world class level.

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