Food & Fitness After 50: The Power of Moving Well to Be Well

 

Harry final marathon with son in 2013
Harry and son, running the New Orleans Marathon 

Now at age 75, Harry doesn’t run marathons anymore, but after completing 11 marathons, he is still running 5-6 miles four days a week with a longer run thrown in to keep it interesting. He also walks and occasionally cycles. He works fitness into everyday life, like walking the stairs, standing on one leg in checkout lines, and balancing on the curb while walking the dog.

 

Harry, an Associate Professor Emeritus of Educational Psychology and Special Education, started running in his late 30s. “In 1976, I watched the Peachtree Road Race, a 10K run on the 4th of July and was mesmerized by the swishing sounds of the hundreds of runners going past me and I thought I would like to do that next year.” So, with a friend, they began running near his home in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Slowly, at first, and then progressing to looping around the mountain three times for a total of 15 miles. He ran the Peachtree in 1977 and was a regular participant for many years. Before too long, he was running the annual event with his son. Harry describes running as “cheaper than Prozac!” For him, running was the best stress reliever and it soon became a “positive addiction.” At his peak of running, he was covering 65 miles a week. But, he learned that pounding the pavement takes its toll; he was losing too much weight and had a harder time recovering as he aged. “I wish I had cross trained and taken a more balanced approach to exercise and fitness.”

He discovered a Furman University professor’s book, Run Less, Run Faster, and realized he didn’t have to put in so many miles to be a successful, competitive recreational runner. “The approach outlined by the authors helped me achieve some balance. I enjoy being active, but as I’ve gotten older I think I am smarter about exercise.” Harry started practicing yoga about 5 years ago to help stretch out tight hamstrings. Runners often have tight muscles because they like to run, but stretching, not so much. (As a former runner, I can relate. I just wanted to go out for a run and not bother with the warm-up and cool-down phase!)Harry peachtree city classic 2015

When asked to identify three things that have helped him age well, Harry immediately said “keep moving,” and that is not surprising given his 4 plus decades of running. He is lean and fit, and you wouldn’t guess he is 75 years old. Second, he said he is careful about what he eats. He likes the approach taken in the Blue Zones where exploration of long-lived populations reveals how people eat well, move well, and be well around the world. And, lastly, he has enjoyed learning about the scholarship of aging and wellness. “As a university professor I was entrenched in my own discipline and did not know much about aging and wellness research and the robust body of literature that exists.” He also enjoys reading popular, informative books such as Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer and The Gene: An Intimate  History. “My grandfather and father died of prostate cancer and I have a much better understanding of how cancer affects my family after reading these books.”

Harry’s advice for those who are sedentary is to start with something within reach, “in hindsight, walking might have been a better choice!” Start slow and set goals to continue to progress. And, remember, “we are all a work in progress.”