The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

At 93, he’s as fit as a 40-year-old. His body offers lessons on aging.

The human body maintains the ability to adapt to exercise at any age, showing that it’s never too late to start a fitness program

Richard Morgan competes in an indoor rowing competition in 2018. (
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For lessons on how to age well, we could do worse than turn to Richard Morgan.

At 93, the Irishman is a four-time world champion in indoor rowing, with the aerobic engine of a healthy 30- or 40-year-old and the body-fat percentage of a whippet. He’s also the subject of a new case study, published last month in the Journal of Applied Physiology, that looked at his training, diet and physiology.

Its results suggest that, in many ways, he’s an exemplar of fit, healthy aging — a nonagenarian with the heart, muscles and lungs of someone less than half his age. But in other ways, he’s ordinary: a onetime baker and battery maker with creaky knees who didn’t take up regular exercise until he was in his 70s and who still trains mostly in his backyard shed.

Even though his fitness routine began later in life, he has now rowed the equivalent of almost 10 times around the globe and has won four world championships. So what, the researchers wondered, did his late-life exercise do for his aging body?

Lessons on aging from active older people

“We need to look at very active older people if we want to understand aging,” said Bas Van Hooren, 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 physical slowing and declines in muscle mass that typically occur as we grow older are normal and inevitable or perhaps due, at least in part, to a lack of exercise.

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