Every day each of us is getting older. But thanks to my good friend Karen Bayless, I was lucky enough to learn about a fascinating new book (What Makes Olga Run? by Bruce Grierson, Henry Holt, 256pp, $25.00) that examines the life of an amazing 94 year old track star.
Olga Kotelko didn't start competing in track and field events until she was 77 years old, but now she is the only woman in the world over the age of 90 who still competes in long-jumping and high-jumping competitions. Plus, she holds over 23 world records in track and field, 17 of which are in her current 90-95 category.
Experts are studying Olga's habits, diet and exercise routine because researchers now believe that longevity is probably about 70-75 percent lifestyle. In other words 25 percent of our health and well being is what we have inherited, and the other "three-quarters is determined by how you play the hand you were dealt."
- Stay physically active--Olga played baseball until she was 75, and then she began participating in track and field events. New evidence indicates that exercise helps us both mentally and physically.
- Stay on your feet--The more hours you spend sitting, the worse your overall health will be. Many office workers now use stand-up desks to effortlessly burn off extra calories, and improve their circulation. For the majority of her life, Olga never had a desk job, and she still climbs stairs and rarely sits for long periods of time.
- You are what you eat--Olga avoids processed and fast foods, but (occasionally) enjoys everything from bread to beef to a baked potato--and she has a sweet tooth. She eats very little in the evenings, and works hard to have a balanced--but natural--diet.
- Be a creature of habit--Good habits make it easy to stay disciplined. Olga has many regular rituals--stretching every morning, bowling every Tuesday, the same bedtime every night, etc. Establishing a regular routine can be like having a healthy safety net.
- Embrace improvement--Whether it's our career, our relationships or our hobbies, we all want to feel like we're making progress rather than backsliding. But after mid-life--when the body naturally begins to get slower and weaker--we need to "refrain" our progress in order to still feel as if we are improving.
- Keep emotions under control--It's harmful to our health to get upset over little things. When asked about how she stays so even-tempered, Olga replied (regarding getting upset) "Honestly, I don't have the time." All of this falls under the category of don't sweat the small stuff.
Olga, who is only five feet tall, grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan, Canada and was the seventh of eleven children. She was a school teacher (grades 1-10) in a one room schoolhouse, married (the wrong man) when she was young, had two daughters, and in 1957, moved to British Columbia with her girls. As a single mother, she earned her bachelor's degree at night.
Her track and field career was helped when she found a trainer--a strict Hungarian woman who demanded the best out of Olga. She began going to the gym three days a week for up to three hours each time doing everything from planks to Roman chairs, bench presses and squats. Today she still does three sets of ten push ups, three sets of 25 sit-ups, and runs intervals. Deep breathing, massage, reflexology and stretching are part of her regular routine.
Recently, Olga told an interviewer that she has the same energy today that she had when she was 50. The reason may be that researchers have found that exercise can stimulate the production of telomerase, the enzyme that maintains and repairs the little caps on the end of our chromosomes that keeps genetic information intact when cells divide. This means that older athletes our more cardiovascular fit than their sedentary counterparts, and they are also more free of age-related illness in general.
Obviously, Olga is a great inspiration to anyone (especially Baby Boomers) who don't want to look or feel their age!
Looking forward to your comments...