Exercising Later in Life: A 93-Year-Old World Rowing Champion Is as Healthy as a 30-Year-Old After Starting to Row at 70

Exercising Later in Life: A 93-Year-Old World Rowing Champion Is as Healthy as a 30-Year-Old After Starting to Row at 70

Exercising Later in Life: A 93-Year-Old World Rowing Champion Is as Healthy as a 30-Year-Old After Starting to Row at 70

It’s not often that researchers use such words as “remarkable,” “exceptional” and “novel” (meaning “new or unusual”) when describing the subject of their study. But these are adjectives investigators used in their case study about 93-year-old Richard Morgan, a resident of Douglas, a suburb in Cork City, Ireland.

Morgan, a four-time master world champion indoor rower, has heart muscles and lungs comparable to that of a 30- to 40-year-old man, according to the healthy aging study that has attracted attention from the international media.

“To our knowledge, this study is the first to characterize the physiological attributes of a competitive rower (4-time master world champion) at an advanced age (over 85 years old),” the authors wrote in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

To have Morgan, a retired baker and battery maker, as the subject of research was the idea of his 29-year-old grandson, Lorcan Daly, an assistant lecturer in exercise science at the Technological University of the Shannon in Ireland, and a co-author of the study.

Daly said his grandfather’s passion for rowing started over two decades ago when he went to a rowing practice session with one of his other grandsons who was a competitive college rower. While there, the coach invited Morgan to try using one of the rowing machines. At the time, Morgan was 73 years old, had creaky knees, and was somewhat out of shape because he did not exercise regularly. Nonetheless, he sat on the rowing machine, and after that, “He never looked back,” Daly said.

Impressed with Morgan’s dedication to indoor rowing over the years, Daly approached his colleagues about studying his grandfather’s physiology and exercise habits. Philip Jakeman, a professor in physical education and sports science at the University of Limerick (UL) in Ireland, and Bas Van Hooren, a strength and conditioning specialist at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, agreed to Daly’s suggestion.

The Study’s Findings Stun Researchers

Morgan was 92 years old when the research team invited him to the UL’s physiology laboratory. The team measured Morgan’s height, weight, and body composition, and collected detailed information about his diet and his training characteristics. They also assessed his metabolism, heart function, and lung capacity. The scientists were amazed that the 165-pound Morgan had 80 percent muscle mass and likely only 15 percent fat.

The investigators also hooked Morgan up to vital monitoring machines and had him race a simulated 2,000-meter time trial on the rowing machine while they monitored his heart, lungs, and muscles. Although Morgan had trouble seeing the rowing machine monitor, the researchers said he “just took off.”

During the time trial, team members were surprised that Morgan’s heart rate peaked at 153 beats per minute, one of the highest rates recorded for someone in their 90s. Morgan’s “oxygen uptake kinetics”—the ability of the heart to quickly supply working muscles with oxygen and fuel—was described as “exceptional.” The researchers also noted that Morgan’s oxygen uptake kinetics, an important indicator of strong cardiovascular health, was “similar to values reported for healthy young adults.”

Daly said it was “Really an amazing sight” to see his grandfather performing at such a high level while Jakeman said it was “one of the most inspiring days” he has ever spent in the lab. 

Daly Reveals His Grandfather’s Healthy Lifestyle Habits

The team pointed to Morgan’s consistency in his training and nutritional practices that contributed to the “novel findings” of their study. Daly spoke to the Irish Independent about his grandfather’s overall lifestyle habits:

1. Morgan’s Diet

Morgan has the same breakfast and lunch every day. “Breakfast is probably porridge, lunch is salads with slices of ham and a wholegrain scone,” Daly said.

Dinner may vary but the food will have the same macronutrients, Daly said. “Dinner might be chicken curry or pork chop with potatoes and vegetables, and is often traditionally Irish.”

Morgan also consumes more protein than the recommended daily amount (about 60 grams of protein for a person of his weight).

The amazing grandfather also has a protein shake after his workout “because he recognizes the importance of maintaining a healthy muscle mass in people over 65,” Daly said. “As elderly people lose muscle, it contributes to lack of mobility and can cause falls.”

Daly also said his grandfather may have a glass of wine once a month and his desserts are offset by his high volumes of training.

2. Morgan’s Exercise Routine

Morgan does not push himself too hard, Daly said. Morgan uses the rowing machine for about 40 minutes every day. For about 70 percent of the workouts, he keeps things light and easy. About 20 percent of his time is at a “more difficult but tolerable” pace, and the last 10 percent is a “high-intensity workout that is barely sustainable.”

Morgan also does lunges and curls with adjustable dumbbells two or three times a week for approximately three sets of squats and arm curls. He repeats each movement until his muscles grow too tired to continue, Daly said.

Besides the significant physical benefits of Morgan’s lifestyle, there are mental health benefits to his routine as well. Daly said exercise gives his grandfather “purpose and joy, direction and a sense of well-being. I’ve seen huge benefits in sense of mood and energy levels.”

Daly said the findings are unique because “apart from a bit of hurling at school” his grandfather began exercising very late in life. “It tells us that fitness is very responsive,” Daly said. “You can start at any time. It’s never too late.”

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