What can you say about a 69-year-old man who can still bike up mountains and run steep, brutal trails? Perhaps that he's a fitness junkie? At 5'7" and 142 pounds, Dieter Rilling possesses a quintessentially fit body, but he doesn't consider himself a fitness nut. Perhaps he's an outdoor enthusiast? That's certainly true, but both the activities that keep him fit and the outdoor surroundings through which he moves go hand in hand.
"You can be healthy if you, throughout your life, adopt the lifestyle philosophy that you need to move your body to keep it healthy," Rilling says.
You can find him on many an early morning, up with the dawn, preparing for fun and exercise. Rilling, a retired civil servant, husband and father of three, arises, eats a healthy and balanced breakfast, then goes out to find the movement and surroundings that fuel him.
One morning you'll find him chugging up a twisting mountain trail, enjoying one of his favorite activities, mountain biking. Another day you may see him running through the woods, rowing on a lake, skiing up a backcountry slope or sweating inside a gym.
"Mountain biking takes you away from cars, it's a much safer activity (than road biking). You can challenge yourself depending on what courses you take," says Rilling, who generally bikes two to three times a week for 2-4 hours, often covering up to 14 miles. His preferred route is up to Mount Ashland on the trail system, a route he times to continually challenge himself.
Running is a fundamental part of Rilling's exercise routine, though he adds other activities to keep variety in his regimen. He was inspired by a book titled "This Running Life" by Dr. George Sheehan, and for many years running was his principal form of exercise. In recent years, due to concerns about wear on his knees, he has branched out.
Rilling will generally trail run only once or twice a week for about an hour and half, covering about 10 miles at a crack. The Mount Ashland trail system provides him with an ideal spot for trail running in beautiful and unpolluted surroundings.
"I consider running a necessary activity, because it's a weight-bearing exercise, which is generally considered essential to maintain bone density," says Rilling, who is mindful of the effects of aging and is doing his best to counteract them.
During warmer months he rows a small, one-man boat on Emigrant Lake for yet another way to stay active. It's a seasonal activity, but one that often provides him with a social outlet when he teams up with other rowers in bigger boats. To Rilling, sharing exercise with others adds to the enjoyment, so he tries as much as possible to share his favorite activities with friends and family.
Once the snow begins to fall, Rilling adds another activity to his arsenal — Telemark skiing. "In the winter you need to supplement some aerobic activity," he says. "You can put on your skins and climb uphill for several hours," he says. His favorite ski spots include the Mount Ashland backcountry, Brown Mountain, Mount McLoughlin and Crater Lake.
As a general rule, Rilling tries to get outside and exercise every other day. He also regularly goes to a gym to add strength and flexibility training to his regimen. Mixing in Yoga classes, cardiovascular training and weights at the gym creates a package of exercise he feels is complete.
All this activity provides benefits beyond the obvious ones, such as muscle tone and endurance. Rilling's well-rounded approach to health and outdoor activity melts stress and allows him have an effortless relationship with food.
"A nice side effect of this lifestyle is that I never have to worry about food," he says. There is no reason for him to calorie count. He gets to eat nearly anything he wants, within reason.
"Without thinking about it I believe I make the right decisions about eating," Rilling says.
"People ask me all the time, 'Do you want to live forever?,'" he confides. "I say no, I just want a steady and high quality of life for as long as possible."
Chad Snyder is a freelance writer living in Jacksonville.