Be sure to sweat often, but not over the small things
I'm about to write a strong testimonial for a book I haven't even read. I intend to read it. I have it on pre-order on my Kindle and check frequently to see whether it has arrived. As of this writing, not yet.
The book is titled "What Makes Olga Run: The Mystery of the 90 Something Track Star and What She Can Teach Us About Living Longer, Happier Lives" by Bruce Grierson.
It's apparently the well told story of a world champion Canadian track star who appears to defy aging — through attitude and exercise. Olga Kotelko at 94 is the world's oldest known long jump competitor, but she also holds the World Records in the 200 and 400 meter dash, high jump, triple jump, shot put, javelin throw, weight throw, weight pentathlon and the 100-meter relay. I'm exhausted just trying to catalog all her competitive athletic events.
Granted, she has relatively few competitors at that age, but the amazing back story is she continues to break her own records. And at a master's competition in Finland in 2010, she threw the javelin more than 15 feet farther than her nearest age-group rival.
Kotelko has a six-point philosophy of life that explains some of her success. I am sure the book will provide additional detail but I feel intimately familiar with her way of looking at the world after reading about her in a variety of publications and on the Web. And, I have already put a few of her ideas into play — with some success, I might add.
First of all, Kotelko believes we must "swap Sudoku for sneakers." And there is increasingly solid research to support that — brain games, no matter their touted popularity right now, are not as effective at enhancing cognition in the older adult brain as is aerobic exercise. Do both, of course, but recognize that demonstrated gains on crossword puzzles does not necessarily carry over into real life.
In Kotelko's view of the world, focusing on aerobic exercise means completely avoiding extended periods of inactivity, or as Olga reportedly tells her age peers, "sitting kills."
It's not just more physical activity and exercise this 94-year-old advises. Not surprisingly, she also models healthful eating — she eats very little processed food and lots of complex carbohydrates. And she eats five times a day — not much in the evening. She has some unexpected food preferences. For example, several articles about her reported "she likes her meat — and she likes it rare."
The Kotelko philosophy reminds us to "be a creature of habit" and anchor our lives in rituals. Bowling every Tuesday, a 20-minute walk before dinner — every day. She also says "cultivate your own sense of progress," and I'm sure she will agree that for each of us, progress toward healthier, happier aging would be defined somewhat differently. Her dictum is universal however: "reframe progress" and "pay attention to small wins."
But it's Olga's final "lesson" that might be the most important: "Lighten up," she says. Think of laughter as aerobic exercise. Or differently put: sweat, but not the small stuff.
Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at Sharon@hmj.com.