Is it possible to slow aging and feel fabulous as you head toward 70 and beyond? Older athletes are making it happen. But, is it even possible for the rest of us? You betcha, if you adopt their lifestyle tips, like the mindset that exercise is medicine. While that sounds simple enough, as super-agers dish their health and fitness routines, there is one caveat; one secret they cannot teach. Read on to discover the magic ingredient keeping them young.
Decades before Jane Fonda donned her leg warmers and that infamous thong to launch the aerobic dance craze, Dr. Kenneth Cooper, founder of Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas, Texas, was running. And, running. And today, pushing 90, he’s still at it. Known as the ‘father of aerobics,’ he launched our modern-day fitness routines. Dr. Cooper’s groundbreaking book ‘Aerobics,’ gave a theory and plan to actually prevent disease through exercise. Although the concept was not accepted or even heard of in the 1960s, Dr. Cooper continued to preach that exercise is medicine.
In his 2018 interview with the Dallas Morning News’ Leslie Barker, Dr. Cooper quips he still keeps a busy schedule. It’s only after a full day of seeing patients and running his massive health facility that he begins his workout on the stationary bike, treadmill and weights. Then comes the fun at home when he’s walking his dog, Scarlett, and having a regular date night with his beloved wife, Millie.
His latest passion? Taking his life-saving message to the people of China, where cancer is now rampant. One of his most well-known quotes would serve us well to remember: “You don’t stop exercising when you get old; you get old when you stop exercising.”
This writer had the privilege of sharing an hour with Dr. Cooper last year. Sitting spellbound, this legend took the podium to exude his no excuses, get active or else warning. Dr. Cooper motivated the business owner crowd to embrace the exercise is medicine lifestyle. Some of his lessons that hit home include:
Joy. Yes, even it seems to be a key factor for competitive older athletes as they focus on whole health, both body and mind.
As most of us are not lifelong tennis players, these lifelong athletes do have tips for us to ‘keep our edge’. Recently, the Dallas Morning News covered senior tennis players. They shared some of their secrets of success, like maintain a 1:1 ratio. Strike a balance between time spent on the court and lower impact joint-friendly activities. Other fitness secrets of tennis players include:
A poster child for this mindset is Julie Cobb Solomon, former World Class tennis player. From Plano, Texas, Julie recently won a team World Championship at 61. She is constantly in demand to play doubles with women half her age. The reigning Mrs. Senior New Mexico, Julie balances being a mother, grandmother, and accomplished musician along with her charity work.
How does she do it? Julie dishes: “An Epson salt bath each day and monthly massage is a must for tired muscles. I go early to bed prior to big events and now limit myself to one match a day. Incorporate other exercises. I love Zumba, as it’s good for the heart, mind, body and soul and helps my footwork and agility on the tennis court. I want to emphasize a “can do” attitude being the most important because if we have that, age is just really a number!”
Speaking of numbers, 30 years is how long Dallas’ Larry North has been owning gyms, restaurants, and leading his nutrition and fitness gospel by example. Now, with as much charisma and good looks as ever, Larry confides to Leslie Barker for fyi50+, that he’s “leaner and in better shape than I was in my 30s.”
He advises that no matter what food plan for nutrition you choose, it’s the quality that counts. “If you just count calories, there’s a difference in the quality of sliced bologna versus the quality of grass-fed beef.” Larry is adamant that food science is more important than ever, and reminds us that fat has a newly respected place in our diets. “The good news is that it’s easier now than it’s ever been to eat healthy”.
Adding meditation to his day, Larry also admits, “I’ve gone from being all about weight loss and fitness to all about having the optimal life… Yes, I gotta go to the gym and make good decisions, but I also think: How can I be kind today?” He now preaches forgiveness when he speaks to groups and believes everyone has a gift. His is connecting with people to trigger something positive in their lives.
Choose a variety to cross-train muscles and build a healthy heart, brain, and mind. Whether it’s yoga, Pilates, tennis, spinning, or dance, vary your workouts and find one you enjoy that leaves you glad you did it. As Alice, a busy 50 something mom of 2 college-age daughters admits, “What makes me get to Zumba? It’s my ‘happy pill’.” An ‘exercise is medicine’ mindset will change the way you think about being active so it’s no longer a chore but a source of joy.
To prevent injury and burnout, balance how much you do with how much tender loving care your body needs and deserves. Supplements, massage, hot tubs, Epson salt, acupuncture, meditation, etc., are preventative measures that provide body balance and recovery.
And, what’s that one special ingredient older athletes exude but can’t teach? It’s no secret by now, is it? It’s joy and passion. At this time in life, while age-modified fitness routines and nutrition are fuel, it’s sharing what they love in life with whom they treasure that makes staying fit worth the effort.