Societies are progressively aging, with the 'oldest old' (i.e. those aged 85-90 years and above) being the most rapidly expanding population segment. Among them, centenarians are not only the survival tail of the population, but also a model of healthy aging as they have managed to postpone (and sometimes even avoided) major chronic diseases and their fatal consequences. Especially remarkable are the cases of centenarians who still have an admirable physical function , and thus represent a paradigm of healthy aging.
During the recent European Master Athletic Championship (held in Madrid on March 2018) a 102-year-old Italian athlete, Giuseppe Ottaviani, won several gold medals with a best performance of 0.85 m in the long jump and 3.31 m in the shot put (using a 3 kg weight). There are other remarkable sports achievements by centenarians. For instance, an American, Donald Pellmann, broke multiple world records at his age-group, including in the 100-m dash (26.99 s) and high jump (0.90 m).
Genetic factors seem to play an important role in the odds of reaching exceptional longevity. Notably, the DD genotype of the insertion (I)/deletion (D) polymorphism in the angio-tensin converting enzyme (ACE) gene is theoretically linked to a higher ACE activity (and thus to higher circulating levels of the gene product, angiotensin II) and is associated with a higher likelihood of reaching exceptional longevity. This in turn could be related, at least partly, to an increased preservation of muscle mass and strength associated with the D-allele, with angiotensin II being not only a vasoconstrictor agent but also a skeletal muscle growth factor . On the other hand, carriage of the 'unfavourable' apolipoprotein E (ApoE) gene ε4-allele seems to have a negative impact on exceptional longev-ity, and might be linked to a greater decline in muscle strength . In this context, one could view the aforementioned athletic achievements as biological exceptions that are largely influenced by a unique genetic endowment. Although this could be true, these achievements should serve to highlight the potential of regular exercise training for the promotion of healthy ageing.
Physical function is considered a biomarker of aging, being a predictor of adverse health events, disability and mortality . There is strong scientific evidence that physical activity is associated with healthy aging in the general older population . Indeed, as confirmed by a recent meta-analysis, chronically trained master athletes preserve their physical function despite advancing age . Yet, there is still a tendency to avoid exercise interventions in the oldest old. Sport achievements by cen-tenarians reinforce the need that policy makers implement programmed physical activity across the life span to attenuate age-related decline in physical function. Nature cannot be changed , but we should never stop trying to beat (our) records.