Today many older adults are like Energizer bunnies — they keep going and going, running marathons in their 80s, teaching yoga in their 90s, competing in the National Senior Games and more. Research shows it’s totally fine — dare we say encouraged.
For example, researchers for the Journal of Physiology concluded that masters athletes have “impressive peak performance capability and physiological function capacity.”. Older basketball players maintain their hand-eye coordination to sink free throws, German researchers reported.
If that’s not enough, title master athletes maintain muscle strength, power and endurance that’s above average for their age and continue to perform well in running and jumping events into old age, according to a study in the European Review of Aging and Physical Activity.
There’s also the long list of benefits of staying active, including better memory, the need for fewer prescriptions and being less likely to be admitted to the ER.
Meet seven inspiring 60-plus athletes who prove that you should never let age limit you:
PHILLIP CIANCIOLO, BODYBUILDER, 60
Cianciolo first started lifting weights in middle school to put on weight for football. When the pigskin plan didn’t pan out, he turned to wrestling in high school and then joined a powerlifting team in college. He competed — and won — locally and regionally during those years and after, with his last appearance at the 1981 Mr. America competition. Or so he thought. Cianciolo continued to “live the bodybuilding lifestyle” and decided to compete again this year. “I knew it would help me with my pain, hurt and betrayal I felt [from a recent divorce] and get me clear-headed and goal-oriented. It worked,” he says. In his most recent competition — against guys not even half his age — he placed first in Masters Over 60, second in Masters Over 50 and fourth in the Open.
His fitness advice: “Getting in shape is not a means to an end; it’s a lifestyle that demands good daily habits. You have to make time and get your workout in your daily schedule, letting nothing deter you. Excuses are a cop out!”
JOHN NERGER, CYCLIST, 60
A life-long runner, Nerger “discovered that eventually age starts taking its course on one’s body,” and turned to cycling in 2015 to substitute for, and complement, his running. He’s had the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa — a seven-day, 400-plus-mile ride across the state — on his fitness bucket list since 1979. He finally crossed it off last year, starting the race on his 60th birthday even though he had crashed a week before. “I pressed on and am sure glad I did. It was a super experience, one I hope to repeat in the future,” he says.
His fitness advice: “If you hit a wall, an injury or life change, be prepared to adapt your fitness regimen. You may be an avid runner now, but you may need to adapt later in life as I did to stay active. I see too many who used to be very active and fit do little today because their primary sport or fitness regimen no longer works for them. I’m an example of what the average person can do when making fitness and exercise a priority.”
PAT GALLANT-CHARETTE, MARATHON SWIMMER, 66
At 46, Gallant-Charette considered herself a spectator mom. “The extent of my exercise was going for a walk in the neighborhood with other neighborhood moms,” she says. Then tragedy struck her family: Her brother, 34, died suddenly of a heart attack. He’d won the Peaks to Portland, a 2.4-mile ocean swim in Maine twice, and soon after his passing, Gallant-Charette’s 16-year-old son said he wanted to do the swim as a tribute to his uncle. “I was deeply touched by his words,” she says. “I said to him, ‘That’s so sweet, I wish I could do the same.’ He looked at me and said, ‘You can, if you try.’” So she began training and soon fell in love with swimming. She’s now completed five of the most challenging swims in the world, set a world record and is participating in the Oceans Seven Challenge, which is considered open-water swimming’s Seven Summits.
Her fitness advice: “Twenty years ago I never imagined that I was going to become a marathon swimmer and go on to set a few world records. My young son’s encouraging words, ‘You can, if you try’ inspired me to try something that was unimaginable. I would encourage others to try something new in life because it may bring them down a road they never imagined.”
READ MORE > SCIENCE SAYS RUNNING HELPS YOU LIVE LONGER
RON GELLIS, CROSSFIT, 69
Gellis has been active most of his life — he played college soccer, has run 20 marathons and was an avid underwater photographer. Still, when he went to watch his son’s CrossFit workout about nine years ago, he thought his kid was crazy. But he loved the challenge and the community, joined a box and has since competed in the CrossFit Games three times. Gellis, a sports psychologist, also uses CrossFit to help addicts. He started the Integrated Recovery Foundation, which addresses the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual challenges of veterans, first responders and anyone experiencing PTSD, traumatic brain injury and addictive or co-occurring mental health disorders.
His fitness advice: “Honor rest days. Some of the athletes that I see, it’s like they have fallen in love. They approach [fitness] like they’ve met that perfect partner, and they fall head over heels and don’t pace themselves. And then they burn out. Even when you are young, your body still needs to rest.”
LOU SELF, KITEBOARDER, 75
Self has enjoyed many water sports in his life, including sailing on a Hobie Cat and windsurfing. At 58, he decided to try kiteboarding on a trip to South Padre Island, Texas, when the winds weren’t good for windsurfing. “I liked the challenge and the little bit of the unexpected,” Self says. “I’ve ridden in winds from 10–40 miles per hour, and it’s cool being the oldest guy on the water.” Although kiteboarding has taken a backseat to his stand-up comedy, he still takes one tropical trip a year to get out on the water.
His fitness advice: “Develop a lifestyle. I always have been pretty active, not in sports, but in everyday life. I avoid elevators and go up the stairs. I may cut it off at five floors, but otherwise I run up stairs.”
JACINTO BONILLA, CROSSFIT, 77
In 2006, Bonilla read about CrossFit in a magazine. Since he was already doing bodybuilding, he searched online to find someone in New York doing this new workout. He joined some guys in Central Park who opened a box a few months later and has been doing WODs since. “I like that the workouts go from one exercise to the next without rest. Sometimes you feel like you will die, but you keep going and have the best workout and get in phenomenal shape,” he says. He holds the distinction of being the oldest ever to compete at the CrossFit Games three times — when he was 69, 72 and 73.
His fitness advice: “A lot of people are afraid of CrossFit, but if you start with baby steps, you will be fine. Make sure you learn the exercises, learn proper form and have a good coach.”
PAUL TETRICK, CYCLIST, 86
About 30 years ago, Tetrick realized he couldn’t keep running. “I had some bad knees, so I got on a bike,” he says. “I found out that I did it fairly well, so I thought I might as well put some of that to good use.” And indeed he has, winning more than 14 national titles. But he’s more proud of his granddaughter, Alison, who is a professional cyclist for Cylance Pro Cycling. “When she was on her way home from her last year of college, she came through Denver, and there was a bike race the same day I was doing one. She was doing triathlons, and I encouraged her to enter. From that point on, she started riding competitively,” Tetrick says.
His fitness advice: “You need to stay fit so you can do things. If you just sit around, you end up not being able to do what you like to do.”