Even 100-year-olds Can Do It!

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We’re not talking about doing that necessarily, but about building muscle strength and getting fitter at any age. ‘Pull the other one’, you say? That’s what I said before I read this article in Harvard Health, so you’re  forgiven.

Not Super-Centenarians 

By the way, the article wasn’t about 100-year-old former Olympians or Iron Men. It was about average people.

On the other hand, average people can do very un-average things, too. Take retired dentist, Charles Eugster who started bodybuilding at age 85. That’s him below. (More on him later.) And, the guy above is not the 100-year old, but he’s definitely over 60 and having a go.

The Harvard article was inspiring too: appropriately called It’s not too late to get in better shape. It had an even more specific subtitle: No matter what your age, you can improve your fitness.

Never too late

exercise-for boomers-brain

According to Dr Edward Phillips, Assistant Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School, even if you’ve been a bit of a couch potato, it’s never too late to get fitter or stronger. ‘Even people 100 years old or older can build muscle strength’ he says.

We’re sacrificing our healthy older years by not moving.

Dr Edward Phillips, Harvard Medical School

Why would you bother? Because, he says:  ‘We’re sacrificing our healthy older years by not moving.’ In other words, if we stay on the couch, as we get older we’re going to get a whole lot sicker.    

A fitness goal at 101

So what about that centenarian? 

Phillips’ colleague, Dr Bean (no relation to Rowan Atkinson) cites the example. The gent was American and aged 101, to be exact. To be fair, he wasn’t in terrific shape so his goal wasn’t Herculean: he wanted to be strong enough to wheel his own wheelchair down the hall to read the newspaper. To do this, he decided to commit to a weight training regime. Impressive at 101!  

The result? He was able to walk down the hall on his own (no wheelchair) with the help of a walking frame. ‘This far surpassed his original goal’ says Dr Bean. In other words, this gutsy gent rebuilt leg and arm strength and improved his balance and motor skills – at 101 years of age. So, what excuse do the rest of us have?

It’s all in our heads 

exercise-for boomers-charles-euster

Yep. That about sums it up: ‘Some people assume, ‘Well, I’m 70, I can’t lift that, or I can’t go skiing or bike riding, because I’m too old” They can’t, not because they physically would be unable to, but because they’ve made the decision that they can’t mentally,’ says Dr Phillips. Have you or others thought this? I know I have at times.

Some people assume, “Well, I’m 70, I can’t lift that, or I can’t go skiing or bike riding, because I’m too old” They can’t, not because they physically would be unable to, but because they’ve made the decision that they can’t mentally.

Dr Edward Phillips, Harvard Medical School

Really? But isn’t the opposite true too? If you believe you can, you will. That’s what our gutsy 101-year old gent thought and proved, and dentist Charles Eugster did too.

What motivated Eugster? ‘Vanity’, he said. He wanted a beach body at 85 so he could impress ‘all those sexy 70-year-old girls on the beach.’ Wow.

He did it too. He rebuilt his muscles and strength and then took up water-skiing and rowing. He was still competing in Masters competitions when he was 96.  Watch his incredible TED talk  delivered at the age of 93. The pic at right is taken from it and includes Charles’ solution to a healthier life: ‘More body, more mind, more spirit!’  Quite a guy.   

Move more

But, back to the article and never being too late to get fit.

As we saw, the big problem is lack of movement. The stats prove it: in the US (and Down Under) less than half the population is doing enough aerobic exercise; only a quarter is doing enough enough strength training.  

So, if we’re not exercising enough and we think we’re too old to start, we’re only going to get older (and sicker) more quickly. Is that what anyone wants? Not me. Not you either.    

Start simple and slow

The Harvard article has some useful tips, including a simple exercise to test your strength and score your result.  In short, we boomers need exercise of 3 types:

  1. Cardiovascular fitness
  2. Strength
  3. Balance and flexibility.

and we need to start slowly.  

Even exercising once a week makes a difference if (you) were not doing that before.

Dr Bean, Harvard Medical School

Sure, when we were younger, we could charge at a gate like a bull (or heifer in my case) and recover, but that’s not smart at boomer age.  We don’t have to be extreme to gain a benefit, anyway: ‘ …even exercising once a week makes a difference if (you) were not doing that before’” says Dr Bean.

exercise-for boomers-couple-running

‘Your body adapts to the degree to which you push it. But we also don’t want people to overdo it and create an injury’. Wise words.  

Don’t forget balance

Balance is super-important for us boomers. Without it, danger lurks everywhere. It’s really easy to improve,too. ‘Something as simple as balancing on one foot can help your balance improve,” says  Dr Phillips.  

This sounded trivial, so I tried it. The first time, it was harder than I thought. I only lasted a few seconds but was surprised by how quickly the interval lengthened.  ‘Adaptation’ as Dr Bean says, even at boomer age. It’s never too late.

Something as simple as balancing on one foot can help your balance improve

Dr Bean, Harvard Medical School

Put into context, a shot at tightrope walking probably isn’t on many of our bucket lists, but being able to recover from knocks and trips without falling would be mighty helpful. (Think of all those electric bikes and scooters on footpaths we could nimbly dodge with safety?) Now, that’s improved balance with a real benefit.

Read the full Harvard article here or check out our free eBook below.   

9 Secrets

9 SECRETS TO LIVING IT UP FOR LONGER

For Aussie boomers only

Kim Brebach

Tracey James

Hello, I’m Tracey James, boomer, former scientist, technical writer and Fixer of Things at M&M. In my spare time, I like to walk, swim and garden.   

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