Adapted from Sun., Dec. 29, 2013 at PARADE.com
Submitted by MAVA National CDR. Mulzim R. Fidai
Six Lessons on Living Longer and Staying Sharp from a 94-year-old Nonagenarian Track Star:
94-year-old Olga Kotelko, a retired schoolteacher from West Vancouver, Canada, could be the poster child for late bloomers. Seventeen years ago, at 77, she entered her first “masters” track and field competition, for participants age 35 and over.
At 85, she knocked off nearly 20 world records in a single year. She is now the only woman in the world over 90 who is still long-jumping and high-jumping competitively.
How does Olga continue to compete? Why does she feel, today, practically the same as she felt at 50? Around the continent, more and more researchers are studying so-called “super seniors” like Olga, who appear to be applying brakes to the aging process itself, defying the slide into a foggy decline, remaining sharp and healthy deep into old age.
“We think longevity is probably about 70 to 75 percent lifestyle,” says Angela Brooks-Wilson, Ph.D., a geneticist in the Genome Sciences Centre at the B.C. Cancer Agency in Vancouver.
That means just a quarter of healthy aging is about the protection you inherited, and up to three-quarters is determined by how you play the hand you were dealt.
This is excellent news. Will any of us be sprinting into our 90s, like Olga? Perhaps not. But can just about all of us be more like Olga? Absolutely. Here are six smart habits of “super agers”:
Swap the Sudoku for Sneakers: Even before she laced up her first track spikes, Olga was always active. As a kid on the Saskatchewan prairie, she and her 10 siblings played baseball with a rag-stuffed ball and she was still playing up until age 75, when she began thinking about a new pastime.
At her first international meet in Tucson, Olga launched the javelin 10 feet farther than her competitors’ marks. She soon hooked up with a coach and started rewriting the record books.
Stay on Your Feet: At home – a tidy suite in the lower level of her daughter’s house – Olga rarely sits for long. She’s continually popping up to stir a soup, write a letter, or make a phone call.
She climbs the stairs, she figures, “probably 50 times a day.” She switches on the TV only to watch her favorite game shows (Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!) or check the weather. Apart from a brief stint as a secretary after she left her family’s farm, she’s never had a desk job.
Eat Real Food: People are intensely curious about Olga’s diet. And while her eating habits are healthy – there’s very little processed food in her cupboards, for instance – they are by no means perfect.
She is no stranger to carbs, often having toast in the morning (perhaps topped with cheese and honey) and bread again in her lunchtime sandwich. She likes her meat and she likes it medium-rare.
Instead, it’s her approach to eating that may be an overlooked part of the puzzle. Olga eats four to five times a day, and not much in the evenings. She won’t skip meals or scarf fast food and count on a handful of supplements and vitamins to pick up the dietary slack.
Be a Creature of Habit: Habits work. Those small familiar actions cue the body that it’s showtime. Your muscles have a memory; they know. Under stress, people tend to fall back on routines, whether healthy or unhealthy.
Cultivate a Sense of Progress: We all need the feeling that in some small ways we’re improving or at least not backsliding, whether at the gym, at our jobs, or in our relationships. Without periodic doses of what psychologist Teresa Amabile, Ph.D., calls “small wins,” our morale craters.
Lighten Up: “People get stressed out over the smallest things,” Olga says. The fact that she doesn’t is as much a matter of choice as temperament. “Honestly, I don’t have the time.”
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