A masters advice on ageing well with Fitness

The Dexter Rotary Club welcomed athlete Howard Booth to speak at their weekly breakfast. At age 76, Howard competes worldwide in track and field events and he shared his thoughts on carrying physical fitness into your senior years.

“It is the condition of your body that lets you do sports,” Howard told Rotarians. “That’s the first thing you think of but it also lets you do your occupation, get up out of bed, and simply doing something rather than nothing.”

Howard has lived an active life regularly competing in one way or another in various sports. Last year at age 76, he went to Torun, Poland and won the World Masters Championship for indoor pole vault thus remaining the ranking world champion in his age group. He also set an American record in the short hurdles becoming world champion in that event as well. He also runs the 100-meter dash and 400-meter relay for Team USA.

World Masters Athletics (WMA) is the organization behind worldwide track and field, cross country, and road running events for people 35 years of age and older. Along with sanctioning worldwide events, WMA outlines the rule modifications for different age levels. Separate worldwide championships are held for indoor events and outdoor events.

“So this is a huge life continuum, and I’m hoping to show the big picture that this is a quality of life thing,” he said. “It’s about doing something you just really like to do, and you keep doing it.”

Howard emphasised key components of physical fitness that we are all familiar with, but then added two more. They are:

  1. Aerobic/cardiovascular: Double your resting heart rate for 30 minutes/day.
  2. Strength: Powerful muscle contractions build muscle and bone.
  3. Stretching: Mostly with movement. This builds range of motion.
  4. Balance: Reduces falling hazards and develops fine muscles.
  5. Agility: Combining balance, speed, power, and coordination.

“If everybody would just double their resting heart rate for 30 minutes a day, we would be a lot better than we are as a population,” he said. “However you move, start gentle and move up from there.”

Howard placed 5th in the 80 meter hurdles. Photo provided by Howard Booth

“It can be simple,” encouraged Howard who then went on to demonstrate simple stretches and antagonistic resistance (one muscle pushing against another) in the five minutes he waits for his coffee to brew. “I’m not downstairs in my workout room. I’m not pumping iron at the Chelsea Wellness Center. I’m just here waiting for me coffee getting some really powerful motions in,” he added.

In his career as a Professor of Physiology at Eastern Michigan University, Howard researched and found that athletes 20-years-of-age who continue to train intensely into their 50s retain 85% of their performance capability. This is compared to non-athletes who retain only 22% of their athletic ability into latter years.

“What that says is that you have to get old but you don’t have to lose your physical capability,” said Howard. “Yes, we do lose our physical ability but we can really slow down the rate of loss if we work at it.”

For those of us already in our latter years who maybe have not lived an athletic life, it’s not too late. “Exercise can reverse or at least slow down the effects of ageing,” he said.

Howard left the group with these final thoughts:

Use it or lose it. Challenge yourself physically and mentally your whole life. “Do it with friends!” says Howard. “It keeps you young(er).”

Exercise is a wonder drug. It reduces dementia, cancer, obesity, heart diseases, diabetes, arthritis, depression, anxiety, and more. “It enhances mobility, happiness, enjoyment, self-esteem, good looks, strength, endurance, adventure, friendships, longevity, and slows most aging processes,” he adds.

Eat & drink with quality in mind, not quantity. “Obesity harms your health and quality of life,” says Howard. “Count your calories and balance your intake with how many you burn.”

“There’s life for you,” concluded Howard. “I think as a human species we’ve got some things that we want to accomplish and the attending to the fitness side of it is going to be our best bet at achieving them.”