5 Tips for Going the Distance From a 94 Year Old Champion

It’s dark.  it’s cold.  it’s raining.  And Nancy is not out there walking in it.  Just a few months ago, I was putting  in 20-30 miles a week.  And now?  I’m walking from the couch to the refrigerator in my toasty new UGG slippers.  I admit it.  I’m a fair weather exerciser.  The gym is my back-up, but I don’t love it.  Okay, I do love Zumba, but this time of year the classes are so full it’s almost a combat sport.  I haven’t done a downward dog in many moons either.  Yoga is great for your body, but where’s the cardio?  That leaves the hamspter-wheel, I mean treadmill.  BORING.  Mind-numbingly boring for me.  Last weekend’s long hill walk in the bright winter sunshine was a tonic, but we don’t have many days like that in the months ahead.  I need to get my walking mojo back.  Pronto!

So, I munched the last of my Fancy Nancy’s Tropical Toffee and went looking for some sorely needed re-motivation.

I found exactly what I needed in a Parade Magazine article by Bruce Grierson who shared the inspiring and very motivating story of 94 year old Olga Kotelko.   A retired Canadian school teacher, Olga entered her first masters track and field competition at 77 and is still bringing home the gold.  She is the only woman over 90 who competes in the long jump and high jump.  Makes you feel like a bit of a slacker doesn’t it?  Well it did me.  I found the perfect role model in Olga.

I’ve read all the statistics about healthy longevity and exercise.  If the current science is correct and longevity is 75% about lifestyle, then we could all take a few pages from Olga’s book.  Will I be doing the high jump at 94?  Probably not.  Heck, I didn’t do the high jump at 14.  But, I will do everything in my power to be walking and dancing and kicking up my heels for as long as I can.  Olga is what researchers  call  a”super senior” – folks who are remaining sharp and healthy deep into old age.  Who doesn’t want that?  Besides, I’m somewhat of an over achiever so any title with “super” in it title really appeals to me.

How do Olga and other super seniors defy the odds?  Here are five of Olga’s habits that are well worth making your own:

1.  Put down the paper and lace up your sneakers.  Yes, it is that simple (and that difficult), but here’s a little added incentive.  We already know that exercise is important to your body, but Increasing evidence suggests that it is also great for the brain.  Want to fend off dementia?  Of course you do.   Well it might just be that taking a walk or a zumba class is better for your brain than completing every square in the New York Times Crossword.  Well then, what magic might happen if we did both?

2.  Stand Up!   Or at least get up.  We all sit too much.  I sit for hours every day at my desk – working, blogging, doing research, doing homework, writing articles.  Whatever. Then hubs and I hunker in front of the TV and sit some more.  Like most Americans, we are active for 1-2 hours tops and sedentary for the other 23 hours a day.  Desk jobs are unhealthy.  Extended periods of sitting can lead to serious problems like high blood pressure, blood clots and perhaps cancer.  Even in people who are deemed fit.   As the Parade article states “The painless act of rising from your chair pumps blood from the feet to the head, it helps tune your vestibular system, which helps maintain blood pressure and keeps you steady on your feet”.  Well, okay then.  It’s time for a few laps up and down the stairs.  I’ll be right back…

3.  Eat real food – most of the time.  If it comes from the ground, eat it.  If it comes from a can, bag or box, think twice.  Allow for the occasional really good indulgence.  That has been my motto for quite a while and I hope it’s working.  Like Olga, I don’t skip meals and then fill up on junk food at the Jack In the Box drive through.  Thankfully, I gave that up years ago.  Olga eats four or five times a day and not much in the evenings.  I like this simple approach.

4.  Become a creature of habit.   Olga’s point is that it helps to make exercise a routine and stick to it so that eventually it becomes a habit.  Easier said than done for me, but I have the perfect role model right here at home.  Hubs, goes to the gym 4 or 5 mornings a week, plugs in his ipod, climbs on the treadmill and listens to the same 20 songs over and over again.   Olga does the same thing at the track, but instead of Meat Loaf, she’s plugging in to Mozart’s Piano Concerto.  Whatever works.  They are both in it for the long haul.  I am too, but I need to change things up or I get restless and slack off.  It’s the “Just Do It” motto that creates the exercise habit.

5.  Give yourself a High-5.  On the 80’s TV show Coach, Luther was the bumbling assistant whose motto was “set the bar low so you will always be successful”.  It got a laugh on the show, but it’s not such a bad idea.  We tend to set lofty goals and then beat ourselves up when we don’t reach them.  Sometimes the goal can be as simple as “take a 10 minute walk” or “just go to the gym for 15 minutes”.   Easy goals get you going and you will probably walk longer or workout more than you planned once you are out there.  Give yourself a mental High-5 when you’re done.   Even better, find a workout buddy and cheer each other on.

Here’s my favorite part of Olga’s story ~ Recently she was at an airport going through security.  As usual everyone began removing their shoes but Olga didn’t.  A sign said that you didn’t have to if you were over 75.  “Excuse me, ma’am” the security agent asked.  “How old are you.?”  “Ninety-three,” Olga replied.  The agent was flabbergasted and asked her again.  “How old?” “Ninety-three” She said again.   “What’s your secret?”  the skeptical agent asked.  Olga’s reply?  “Enjoy life.”   A huge grin spread across the agent’s face.   She nodded her head and turned to her supervisor somewhere behind the barrier and announced, “I quit.”

And there’s the motivation I needed to get out in the cold, damp, dark and walk, walk, walk.  Even and especially if it’s walking to the gym.

Thank you, Olga, from a former Canadian and brand new fan.

See you on the road.

Nancy

Bruce Grierson has a new book What Makes Olga Run?  The Mystery of the 90-Something Track Star and What She Can Teach Us About Living Longer.  It hits the bookshelves January 14.  I can’t wait to read it.