‘I’ll never be as fit as I was when I was thirty’ is a complaint (excuse?) that we often hear when talking to people about the Silver Grey Sports Club, when explaining that we write about and film people over the age of fifty who do extreme and adventure sports. People then almost inevitably indulge in nostalgia for some mythical youth with limitless energy with which to go out and enjoy life and all it has to offer.
The reality is that unless your name is Usain Bolt or Dina Asher-Smith it’s probably not true that you’ll never be as fit as you were at thirty. Unless you happened to be a world champion at something the chances are that you didn’t fulfil your potential entirely. And if you didn’t there may well be some ‘headroom’ to exploit to enable you to become more fit than you were at thirty. It all depends on how fit you were at that age. How fit were you - really?
In the course of finding and reading the results of scientific research into the hugely beneficial effects of exercise on being older, one thing has jumped out at us, the importance of maintaining good muscle mass and tone - something we have written about time and again! When one looks at ‘normal’ older people, much of the ‘decline due to age’ can be put down to muscle deterioration and loss, with the consequent weakness and frailty which is so debilitating. So one can appreciate the effect of muscles on health. But what about the effect of muscles on ... language?
At SGSC, we're always talking about the benefits of working on your muscles as you go through life and get ‘older’! We never stop talking about how good it is for you and the positive effect it can have on your life. One of the benefits we trumpet is the fact that by keeping your muscles strong and in good condition you are much more able to take care of daily tasks. And apparently one of those daily tasks is fighting off intruders when they try and break into your home!
At least that’s the use that 82-year-old powerlifter Willie Murphy put her strength to when confronted by an intruder.
What is Silver Grey Sports Club, what is it all about? When asked, we say that we are a website focusing on people over the age of fifty who do extreme and adventure sports. Behind that initial statement, an extremely important aspect of this is that in order to do these sports well and safely, a lot of strength and fitness training needs to be done. We then go on to talk - somewhat evangelically, no doubt - about all the quality-of-life benefits for older people that follow on from all that physical training. This is a notion which is supported by the entire medical and health establishment, especially in terms of countering the loss of muscle mass and bone density, both of which are associated with getting older and both of which have catastrophic consequences for quality-of-life in later life. While we have found and written about a great deal of research that backs this up, we haven’t come across a single piece of research that contradicts it.
So with that in mind, here are Freda and Clarence, two more examples of what we call Silver Grey athletes working hard in the gym, and talking about (or in Clarence's case just showing us) how much better they feel as a result.
Dieter Hesch is an 80-year-old (just) multi-sportsman who contacted us to tell us about himself. We think his story is inspiring - here’s what he had to say:-
Who are you, how old are you, what do you do?
...I am Dieter Hesch, 80 yrs. old. I am a Professor of Medicine and Biology, now retired but still scientifically active.
Tell us a bit about your history of involvement in sport. Were you sporty as a child? If so, has it always been part of your life, or did you at some point stop and then take it up again?
...well, I was born at the lake of Konstanz (Switzerland/Germany), so a great part of my lifetime was in and on water. I have been doing all sorts of board sports for the past 60 years. After the second world war performing sport was really limited. One time when I jumped off a diving board at the age of 14, I landed on my back und broke a vertebra. Fortunately no paraplegia occurred. But I was not allowed to play sports for a few years.
One hears a lot about “the ageing population” and the host of problems that this phenomenon entails. Anyone who reads anything on this site might realise that these problems relate not to age but to decrepitude. Reading the stories on this site one should be brought to the realisation that falling into decrepitude is, to a far greater degree than people might realise, a choice not an inevitability, at least as far as the timing of it is concerned. As Ernestine Shepherd, the world’s oldest female competitive bodybuilder, says “…being out of shape as we age is an option, not a mandate”. So we bring together on this site amazing stories, about amazing people, that demonstrate just that - the relationship between age and decrepitude can be massively influenced by the choices one makes. And here is one more such. A 52-year-old woman, Nicky Spinks, who lives and farms in the Peak District has become the first person, male or female, ever to complete what is known in the Fell Running community as a “Double Paddy Round”. What is a Double Paddy Round? A (single) Paddy Buckley Round is a Fell Run of 61 miles over some of the toughest mountain terrain in Wales. And in May this year Nicky Spinks ran the circuit in one direction, in a time of 23hrs 21 min, and then turned round and ran it all again in the other direction. The first person ever to do so!
81-year-old Mavis Paterson, from Auchenmalg in Dumfries and Galloway, has become the oldest woman to cycle from Lands End to John o’Groats.
As well as setting the new record she is raising money for the Macmillan Cancer Support charity in memory of her four children, tragically all of whom died in their 40’s within four years of each other. She completed her 960-mile route in just over three weeks, setting off on May 24th and finishing on the 22nd of June.
It’s said that we live in a Digital World. This article is being written using a digital system and, equally, you’re reading it on a digital system. The entirety of the Silver Grey Sports Club website exists because of the digital world. All of which is ironic, because the subject of this article is the fact that in all the most important respects we do in fact live in an Analogue World.
And the AW is largely overlooked. If people who look after their analogue selves rather than their digital selves were described as Luddites, as being out of touch with the modern world, what would be odd about that would be that nobody thinks about having an analogue self, an analogue identity. A digital identity is what you have. Who even thinks that an analogue identity is a thing? Which is odd, because analogue is at the bottom of everything.
Earlier this year, in the summer of 2018, we met and filmed an interview with age-group cyclo-cross world champion Robin Delve. He told us about his start in cyclo-cross and his journey to the top of the world - and now he has done it again, World Cyclo-cross Champion for the 60-64 age group for the second year in a row.
Not only a determined and talented competitor, Robin is also an expressive writer, and his account of the race is well worth a read - giving a vivid idea of his experience during the race. Read it and you feel like you’re there with him - amazing!
Mountain biking can be one of the scarier adventure sports … if you’ve never done it before. The close proximity of metal and bone doesn’t make a comfortable partnership especially when you’re hurtling round an uneven and rocky trail in a bike park. However, these two show that the answer to the question in the title, as with all the activities we cover, is definitely “NO!”
Most people, including ourselves, wouldn’t consider athletics an extreme sport, so we haven’t covered it a great deal on Silver Grey Sports Club. However, we came across this video of the final of the women’s 100m in the 50-54 age-group from the World Masters Athletics (WMA) meeting in Perth, Australia in 2016. Looking at these athletes you can have no doubt that the strength and fitness required for participating in age-group athletic competition does very much crossover with some of the ideas we believe in - that there is no age limit to keeping your body in exceptionally good shape and enjoying everything that being in the best physical shape brings with it.
Here are a few things to think about while, say, spending time running on a treadmill - better that than reading a newspaper while doing it!
We have reported on many studies that have shown that exercise is good for the brain as well as the body. Now a new study has suggested that something like the reverse is also true, that obesity is bad for your brain, specifically for the volume of the brain’s grey matter. Grey matter is a major constituent part of the brain and is important in areas of the brain involved in muscle control and sensory perception such as seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision making, and self-control. Having less of it is not a good thing, and the research by Mark Hamer of Loughborough University and David Batty of University College London does appear to show that, as obesity increases, the brain’s grey matter takes the opposite route and gradually shrinks.
We had to wait six months after filming the interview in November but finally we had the opportunity to film Wolfi surfing his favourite spot in Cornwall, Watergate Bay. Not a perfect day as the wind blew a bit too much from the north and west but he made the best of it, and we were able to capture some of the graceful and stylish surfing that this 76-year-old brings to the waves.
Part of the reason for the delay is that for the last 28 years Wolfi has taken himself off to Tobago for part of the winter to get some surfing in warm water and, as he says, to enjoy the way of life and the music.
Norm Coleman contacted us as a way of getting in touch with Hilary Walker - we couldn't pass up such an opportunity
Who are you, what do you do, how old are you?
I am Norm Coleman, who has medical board certification in internal medicine, medical oncology and radiation oncology. I was a department chairperson at Harvard Medical School for 14 years (1985-99) and for the last 18 years I have worked at the US National Cancer Institute doing cancer research, health and medical preparedness for nuclear incidents and helping broaden the research opportunities, particularly for radiation oncology.
I am 73 years old, having grown up in the New York area, with career stops in California, Boston and Washington DC. I still work ~60 hours per week.
We’ve done a lot of writing about how exercise can be the best way of ageing successfully. We’ve written about how exercise can be medicine. We’ve written about Superagers, who don’t suffer the usual decrepitude of ageing, even when examination shows that they have the physical symptoms that mean they should be suffering from dementia, for instance, but they aren’t. We’ve described exercise in age as the true fountain of youth and we don’t intend to stop now. Because there is even more evidence of the truth of this, in a new study which shows how exercise operates at a fundamental level within the body to alter the commonly accepted course of ageing.
As 82 year old Professor Norman Lazarus, a co-author of the report and at the same time a subject of it, said ”If exercise was a pill, everyone would be taking it”.
We first came across Louis Gomez in an online video. He contacted us recently and was happy to tell us his story - here it is.
Who are you, what do you do, how old are you?
I am Louis Gómez a 79 year old retiree from Miami, Florida. I retired at 55 from Chase Bank where I worked in IT.
How long have you been involved in Kitesurfing? How did it begin?
I learned to kiteboard when I was 70 years old and I am currently foilboarding also.
Some new research, led by Kristen Beavers, an assistant professor of health and exercise science at Wake Forest University, sheds some light on two important and interlinked issues that concern Silver Grey athletes - keeping a healthily low body weight while maintaining adequate muscle mass for both your sports and for your health and quality of life.
This new study suggests the way to go is to combine weight training with a calorie-controlled diet and in this way to preserve lean muscle mass which can be lost through aerobic workouts.
People don't all become Silver Grey athletes in the same way or for the same reasons. In the case of Pat Gallant-Charette it was a sudden death that started her on the journey which led to her numerous records for distance swimming.
If you’ve ever thought that it was too late to start exercising, too late to get more strength and/or fitness as you get older think again.
A new study from the Mayo Clinic, led by Kirsten Coffman, has found that if Silver Greys want to start even a vigorous exercise regime, there's a good chance their lungs will be able to keep up with the pace.
The Fountain of Youth. It’s an idea that has been around since the beginning of human history, probably, certainly since early civilisation, with roots in Greek mythology and written about as early as the the 5th century BCE, by the Greek writer Herodotus. He described it as a spring that could restore the youth of anyone who drinks from it or bathes in its waters. That story described a quite literal return to being young. The question is, is it really necessary to be young in order to be youthful, or at least in order to have some of the energy that one has when younger.
Apparently not - at least, not according to a report into some research from the Mayo Clinic.
As the saying goes, it isn’t the first time and it certainly won’t be the last time .... that we get research that shows that the benefits of exercise go beyond muscles and up as far as your brain.
Here is yet more evidence that exercise can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimers disease. It comes from a study carried out at McMaster University in Canada by Jennifer Heisz, an assistant professor in the department of kinesiology.
…OR...“The Underappreciated Role of Muscle in Health and Disease”...
…which is the title of some research published about 10 years ago, and which is particularly relevant to many topics on this site.