Monday, November 29, 2010

A 91 year old track and field star - Olga Kotelko

I work with the young and the old. But sometimes the 'young' folks are the whiniest of them all. This last month Leslie who just turned 50 was kicking the asses of 25 year olds in Urban Warrior. I won't mention any names. There's a fire and determination in some people to get strong and fight what may seem like the inevitable slide into physical decline and apathy.

I have a 68 year old breast cancer survivor client who kicks ass on pull ups and just doesn't get sore from workouts that easily anymore. She trains a couple times a week, goes to 2 pilates classes a week, walks everywhere and regularly sees an osteopath.

I also have 68 year old clients who have neglected their bodies for years and are basically trying to be able to walk up and down stairs without pain. Good on them for coming in to train. But wouldn't it be great if our efforts didn't come too late so that when our wisdom is ripest we could actually go do whatever our little hearts desire without being limited by what our bodies can do? I know not everyone is lucky and sometimes fate takes over. Sometimes shit happens despite our best efforts to be healthy. But anyone can fight to feel better.

Jaimie sent this link to me today and funnily enough I was talking to someone tonight who mentioned this story as well. Seems Olga Kotelko's story is going viral, at least in my little world.

Here's an excerpt taken from the New York Times article:

On the third floor of the Montreal Chest Institute, at McGill University, Olga Kotelko stood before a treadmill in the center of a stuffy room that was filling up with people who had come just for her. They were there to run physical tests, or to extract blood from her earlobe, or just to observe and take notes. Kotelko removed her glasses. She wore white New Balance sneakers and black running tights, and over her silver hair, a plastic crown that held in place a breathing tube.

Tanja Taivassalo, a 40-year-old muscle physiologist, adjusted the fit of Kotelko’s stretch-vest. It was wired with electrodes to measure changes in cardiac output — a gauge of the power of her heart. Taivassalo first met Kotelko at last year’s world outdoor masters track championships in Lahti, Finland, the pinnacle of the competitive season for older tracksters. Taivassalo went to watch her dad compete in the marathon. But she could hardly fail to notice the 91-year-old Canadian, bespandexed and elfin, who was knocking off world record after world record.

Read the whole story

What if there's a chance that anyone at any age could make fitness gains regardless of injuries, medical conditions or past experience with fitness. I say screw resignation.

Here's another little story. I worked with Vera for a couple months, a 67 year old woman with little exercise experience or at least not the type of exercise that actually made her sweat. Within just a couple months of training, she was going up the dreaded 5 sets of stairs faster and feeling like a fire was lit under her butt. She learned to hustle on her daily walks instead of saunter and is building up the muscles in her lower body to alleviate some of the pain she experiences from osteoarthritis.

Here's some more very interesting stuff from the article about this:

EXERCISE HAS BEEN shown to add between six and seven years to a life span (and improve the quality of life in countless ways). Any doctor who didn’t recommend exercise would be immediately suspect. But for most seniors, that prescription is likely to be something like a daily walk or Aquafit. It’s not quarter-mile timed intervals or lung-busting fartleks. There’s more than a little suffering in the difference.

Here, though, is the radical proposition that’s starting to gain currency among researchers studying masters athletes: what if intense training does something that allows the body to regenerate itself? Two recent studies involving middle-aged runners suggest that the serious mileage they were putting in, over years and years, had protected them at the chromosomal level. It appears that exercise may stimulate the production of telomerase, an enzyme that maintains and repairs the little caps on the ends of chromosomes that keep genetic information intact when cells divide. That may explain why older athletes aren’t just more cardiovascularly fit than their sedentary counterparts — they are more free of age-related illness in general.

Exactly how exercise affects older people is complicated. On one level, exercise is a flat-out insult to the body. Downhill running tears quadriceps muscles as reliably as an injection of snake venom. All kinds of free radicals and other toxins are let loose. But the damage also triggers the production of antioxidants that boost the health of the body generally. So when you see a track athlete who looks as if that last 1,500-meter race damn near killed him, you’re right. It might have made him stronger in the deal.

Exercise training helps stop muscle strength and endurance from slipping away. But it seems to also do something else, maintains Mark Tarnopolsky, a professor of pediatrics and medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario (who also happens to be a top-ranked trail runner). Resistance exercise in particular seems to activate a muscle stem cell called a satellite cell. With the infusion of these squeaky-clean cells into the system, the mitochondria seem to rejuvenate. (The phenomenon has been called “gene shifting.”) If Tarnopolsky is right, exercise in older adults can roll back the odometer. After six months of twice weekly strength exercise training, he has shown, the biochemical, physiological and genetic signature of older muscle is “turned back” nearly 15 or 20 years.

This is all so very hopeful.

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