Inspirational story – The world’s oldest athlete

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There’s nothing like an inspirational story to keep you active. And if you’ve ever wondered whether that extra push up was worth it, the tale of Centenarian Ruth Frith should dispel all doubts.

When she was 90, Ruth Frith’s doctor told her she had to give up the triple jump. He was worried she might jar her back when she landed in the sandpit. “I told him: ‘Oh doctor! I love jumping. You’ve probably taken 10 years off my life!’” Ruth recalled at the time.

Ruth went on to live until 104 and entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest competing athlete on the planet. Based on the Gold Coast in QLD, she spent her 100th birthday by setting an age world record for the weight pentathlon. This is an event in which athletes must throw in five disciplines – hammer, discus, javelin, shot and heavy hammer. Ruth celebrated her 104th birthday with a session on her exercise bike.

Ruth was forever trying to persuade nursing homes to send residents to watch her and other older athletes compete in Masters athletics events. She felt strongly that people are often hampered more by their minds than their bodies and that seeing her run, jump and throw would make them question the restrictions they – and even society – placed on them.

Think the right way

“You can’t go thinking: ‘I’m 102, I can’t do that,’ or you’d end your life sitting in a chair,’ said Ruth. “You never know what you can do unless you try.”

Australia was so lucky to have Ruth to show us what is possible as we get older and there are many important lessons she can teach us – all backed by science.

Here at refresh YOU, we love this story – and it’s why we put so much emphasis on all that functional training that will help you stay strong and independent for as long as possible.

It’s never too late

Ruth didn’t take up athletics until she was 74. Before then, she was more likely to be officiating, supporting her daughter or minding bags.

The research:

A team at the University of Michigan found that everyone can continue to build muscle and strength well into their golden years.  Just be aware that taking up training at 60 is different to training at 20 so make sure you get an experienced trainer. Our trainers at refresh YOU have more than 60 years experience between us..1

You can keep on building muscle as you age.

At 100, Ruth was still bench pressing 25 kilos and training five days a week- throwing and doing two or three cardiovascular and weights sessions. “I love training. It’s never a bore!” she said.

The research:

At the Universities of Birmingham and Kings College in the UK, researchers studied 125 experienced amateur cyclists aged 55 to 79. The studies found that regular exercisers didn’t lose muscle mass or strength or increase their body fat or cholesterol levels as they aged. Men’s testosterone levels also remained high suggesting they may have avoided most of the male menopause. And it wasn’t just muscles that benefitted – they cyclists’ immune systems hadn’t aged either so find a mix of fun classes you won’t get fed up with after six months! 2

It helps to find someone to match yourself against

Although Ruth rarely had anyone her age to give her any competition, she’d always look at those Masters Athletes 10 or 20 years younger than her and try to match herself against them, laughingly referring to the 70 and 80-year-olds as  “pre-schoolers” or “spring chickens.”

The research:

A study published in the Journal of Social Sciences found that group fitness is the best for results as participants gravitate towards the exercise behaviours of those around them. Another study from the Obesity journal found overweight people lose more weight if they spend time with fit friends. The more time spent together, the more weight they lost. 3

Focus on muscle power as well as muscle strength

Ruth still had a throwing coach at 100 and was constantly honing her technique. After dislocating her knee, she didn’t give up but simply worked on a way to throw that didn’t cause pain.

The research:

Most weight bearing exercise focusses on strength only but it seems it’s increasing muscle power – so functional strength training, combining speed and strength that’s the key to a longer, healthier and independent life. If not addressed, muscle power starts decreasing after the age of 40, according to studies from the European Society of Cardiology. That’s why you start having problems getting out of chairs or climbing steps.4  StrengthFit, BoxFit or HIIT are all excellent. We all have days when we can’t do our usual exercise but it’s great if you can find a way to still keep moving without making it worse, at refresh YOU, we’ll guarantee to help you do that.

Exercise is the best medicine

Ruth was as sharp as a tack until the day she died and lived independently with her daughter, Helen also an athlete. She was constantly on the move. “She couldn’t even stand at the stove to boil an egg without hopping from foot to foot. She said she had to keep her blood flowing,” says Helen. “I was coaching her in her later years and the hardest thing about coaching her was getting her to slow down. She had to throw world records all the time!”

The research:

Doctors should be prescribing exercise as medicine, according to the Queensland University of Technology. Not only is it good for physical health, with significantly less disability and better physical function, but also brain health. 5

At Harvard Health, meanwhile, doctors found that staying active slows down the diseases, immobility and fraility that sees so many end up in a nursing home. 6