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.
...I started again as a student with moderate muscle training but not very intensive. At university and then with a young family, sport became less important but I missed it always, mainly sport on water because when I was young I used to do a lot of sailing. Later, when I was working in the US I saw one evening on TV one of the first windsurfers. I contacted the TV station and asked for more information. They gave me a phone number and I managed to get one of the first 10 delivered to Europe. Maybe that was around 1972. I used to be a very engaged windsurfer over 20 years and during the period when I was working in California it was easy to fly to Hawaii. I was staying for a short while with the Naish family where I got really ‘infected’ by that sport. Rick Naish, the father of Robby, whom I admired very much, is also still active as I learned last week.
Over several years I tried again and again to surf waves. But if you are not born near the waves or living there it is difficult to perfect it. So I never got really good. And once when I was in Hawaii I got ‘washed’ for endless minutes by a rather big wave. That wave told me: ”Don’t come back…”
Stand-up Paddleboard (SUP) is a traditional way of surfing but it is only in relatively recent years that it has re-gained wider appeal. You were an early SUP-per.
...indeed, it was just luck, because in Europe in contrast to Hawaii nobody did it. However, by chance, when I was on holiday in the south of France there was a young man with a very flat, paddle-boat. I asked him to rent it to me for a short time. I stood upright on the boat using one end of the paddle to move it: that was my first SUP! An image of that was later published in the SUP magazine.
Robby Naish brought SUP to Europe from Hawaii, where it has a long tradition. I got an SUP from Naish which I still use at the lake of Konstanz where I live now in a home directly on the beach. So as soon as it gets warm in spring I get out every morning, mostly alone with maybe just one fisherman and I watch the sun coming up over the alps.
Tell us about changing to wind-surfing, then to kite-surfing?
...as I said I started windsurfing in 1972 and I stuck to it for 20 years. When I was in Barbados in 1992 I met a kitesurfer for the first time. The word “kitesurfing” didn’t exist back then. The first really usable kites were made by the the brothers Legaignoux and they called them Wipika. They used to say “We go Wipika”. Bruno Legaignoux sent me one in 1992 after my first experience in Barbados and then I started to learn the sport, which was not so easy with the material at that time.
From the image you sent you are in excellent shape.
...yes. Because of my accident with broken vertebra I was told to build as much muscle as possible. So I started around age 30 with muscle building and I do this since nearly every day. Not with heavy weights anymore but still intensive, mostly daily using TRX, the “Eisenhorn” training device and Noord barbell.
You must have quite a workout routine. Can you tell us a bit about that?
..see above. No matter where I am I always train, the TRX is in my bag when travelling.
Cardio / endurance vs muscle maintenance?
...well, cardio is not my favoured activity but I do frequently swim and I have a cross trainer at home and a static bicycle.
We are continually looking for science research that demonstrates the many ways in which exercise benefits the body during ageing. As a professor of medicine and biology you must have a great insight into that whole idea, for instance, knowing that exercise can mitigate many of the negative aspects of ageing, i.e becoming frail.
...indeed and I am still working also scientifically on all sorts of anti-ageing strategies. Frailty is entirely a weakness of muscle, consequently leading to osteoporosis. That is why muscle training in older people is so important. High protein nutrition is equally important. Both are dramatically neglected by our older population. There are a few supplements which counteract sarcopenia of older people as well but they must be individually prescribed.
What brought you to the realisation that you can still be so involved in sports at an age that is beyond most people’s idea of what is possible?
...Basically it is the WILL to participate actively in life. The image you have in the mirror is what you have made out of your life apart from healthy creative thinking and positive emotions. Social respect and contact are important as well. But you must start with that in the middle of your life. When you live in old peoples homes and nursing homes, your life has gone.
Would you say that you're still improving your strength and fitness, maintaining your level or just slowing down decline?
...I would say that I try to maintain my fitness. This is not without effort given that the biological processes of ageing are difficult to counteract, the older you get. You need a lot of effort and will in conjunction with life-style, nutrition, sleep and personal engagement.
Have a look at my body composition:
Height 169 cm
Weight 69 kg
Body fat around 12 %
Visceral fat around 9 %
Muscle mass around 40 %
Does the fitness you have enable you to enjoy the other things you do more?
Do you have any ailments that impact your sport/life?
...yes, of course , I suffer from a hereditary osteoarthritis which, again, I fight against with my training.
Have you had any injuries?
...yes, all sorts of sports accidents - the last was an avulsion of the adductor longus muscle caused by an abrupt start when wakeboarding. Rehabilitation was perfect within 6 weeks using an intensive training programme guided by an experienced Professor from Denmark.
We feel strongly that doing demanding exercise really contributes to keeping your brain alive and sharp. Do you agree?
...absolutely. There are enough scientific data which support that. Even Alzheimers is positively influenced by healthy exercise and by all sorts of thinking and creativity.
Having been lucky enough for Dieter to have contacted SGSC, we are hoping that he will contribute occasional well-informed articles about the benefits of exercise in maintaining quality of life when getting older.