Brains and Brawn… Fit at Any Age

Published 4:18 pm Friday, March 19, 2021

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I have noted distinct differences in the way a person’s body responds to training as they age.

A teenage athlete may gain large amounts of performance improvement even though their training is often disorganized and undisciplined.

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A young adult may still experience notable improvement, but it rarely matches that growth of their younger years. A middle-aged person often must work very hard simply to maintain their strength and fitness levels.

Many senior citizens have a hard time working out at all. So, as a person ages, they must adapt the way they achieve physical fitness.

A local athlete who lives in the Stoney Creek area, Bob Hardin, has received many awards as a competitive runner.

At 74 years old, Bob is now the back-to-back state champion in his age group for the Tennessee Running Tour. This tour includes 20 races that range from 5 to 13 miles in length and are held in state parks across Tennessee.

Despite the difficulties and closings caused by the COVID pandemic, 18 of the 20 races were able to be held over the last year and Bob participated in 11 of these accumulating him the most points and netting him the championship.

I asked Bob about the races on the tour and their difficulty.

Bob said, “State parks are often donated land. The donated land is usually what wasn’t useful as farming land, and it tends to be very hilly.”

Hills are challenging to any runner, but Bob was undaunted and overcame one difficult course after another this year. Bob is the picture of health and is a wealth of knowledge regarding staying fit as you age.

Bob noted that over his life he has encountered many people who discouraged him from exercising so vigorously as he got older.

“I even had a doctor that once told me to stop running,” he said, pointing out that the doctor was concerned about his joint health.

Bob indicated that he believed a lot of that type of thinking was based on a false belief that older athletes should just hang it up at the first sign of injury.

“I like to think I am redefining what’s possible,” Bob says regarding how we think about performance for aging athletes.

I asked Bob how his fitness strategies have changed over the course of his life, and he noted that around age 65 he had to adopt a high protein, low carb diet to maintain an ideal weight.

He also mentioned that he was warned that at age 70, “The wheels will fall off,” and that he did observe a nearly immediate 10% lower performance in his running as he turned 70.

Bob reflected that “It can be scary. You might not be as fast, but that is not what is important. The most important thing is to stay active and keep going.” Bob continued, “The biggest issue to aging athletes is susceptibility to injury and longer recovery times. I had to work with a physical therapist to effectively recover a few times after an injury.”

When asked about how physical fitness has improved his life, Bob stated “I believe the lifestyle in our area can contribute to a reduced life expectancy.”

Bob was describing our tendency to drive everywhere instead of walking and how that can lead to poor health.

He went on to note that more active seniors like himself almost never have bone density issues, respiratory problems, or numerous other health issues that often plague their peers who are not as active.

Bob indicated he believes that people of all ages can benefit greatly from an appropriate exercise plan.

Bob is a great example of what a lifetime of fitness can accomplish. I once participated in a half-marathon with Bob.

I was just over 40 and he was just over 70 at the time. He won his age group and beat my time, but I am not upset about losing to a man that has indeed “redefined what’s possible” for aging athletes.