The start line of the annual race in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, was crowded. A rain delay had participants just waiting. I looked over at a woman next to me, and said “hello”. She was friendly and we had a conversation. When the announcer asked who was celebrating a birthday, we both raised our hands. I mentioned that I was happy to be a participant with an upcoming birthday. “Me too!” she said. I asked what birthday it was. “I’ll be 81 tomorrow” she replied! I was so excited to meet her. She looked to be about my size and we are both seniors. We even have the same first name, spelled the same: Carolyn. We had both registered for the 5K (3.1 miles) and we both do it by a combination of run/walk. So much in common already!
I saw her part way through and said hello, as I jogged by. After we all got to the finish line, we connected again. I just had to know how she keeps up her active lifestyle at age 81 and what she does on a daily basis. After all, I’m focused on healthy aging and she’s doing great at it.
What Does Carolyn Do Every Day?
I had the privilege of interviewing Carolyn K., a 40-year San Francisco resident. Her habits of being active started in childhood, she recounted. Her parents emphasized hiking, camping and outdoor activities. She has continued this throughout her life. Carolyn walks outdoors daily, even in the rain. She has climbed Mount Whitney.
Carolyn got involved in indoor stair climbing charity competitions created and sponsored by the American Lung Association, Fight For Air. For about 10 years she walked up stairs in commercial buildings, including the 1762 stairs in the highest building in San Francisco, the Salesforce Tower. She did this in 15-20 minutes and only stopped competing because of the pandemic. She and a friend prepared with outdoor stair climbs and continue these climbs. No wonder she can handle a 5K run/walk!
I explored her other regular habits that could account for her remarkable stamina, healthy appearance, and youthful attitude. Here they are, just as the doctors all tell us to do but relatively few actually do.
The Prescription From This Real Life Super-Ager:
1. Exercise daily and do it with others. She and her husband of 52 years walk up the hills near where they live daily. She met a younger friend doing her stair climbs, a connection Carolyn initiated. They stay in touch and Carolyn follows her friend on Instagram and with an exercise app.
2. Push yourself to do something more difficult— She does a high intensity Seven Minute Workout, and that will get anyone breathing harder. Here is one example. Many versions are available for sitting exercise as well. As another challenge, she did a 10K on a flat course and was pleased with the results.
3. Keep your weight in check. It’s a lot easier if you are as active as she is. And it’s important to eat a good diet too. Carolyn keeps to the Mediterranean diet, mostly chicken and fish with vegetables, omelets for lunch. She bakes her own bread and her husband makes their own sugar free cereal. She uses olive oil in her cooking and limits sugar in her baking. She maintains a healthy weight and wears it well!
4. Sleep. She gets 7-8 hours a night.
5. Medication-she takes only a small dose blood pressure med, and monitors her blood pressure daily at home.
6. Social connections-she has a nearby friend she could call if she needed help as well as children and grandkids. The family are not nearby so she stays in touch by zoom or phone. Note that she initiated the friendship with her fellow, younger stair climber. She makes these connections happen. It’s not a passive process.
7. Mental stimulation-She does a lot of reading and listens to audiobooks. She does fun games on her phone, as well as crossword puzzles and Wordle. Over the past 10 years, she has collected family history and stories and published them with photos for family distribution in print, not on social media.
Carolyn is the picture of good health and an active lifestyle. She inspires me and I hope she does you, as well. Imagine yourself doing even part of what she does every day. She’s not a marathon runner, nor world class athlete. She’s a retired teacher and librarian who has figured out how to avoid disabling conditions, infirmity and loss of mental function. The self-discipline, the daily choices, and the commitment to aging beautifully are something to aim for as those years pile up. I’m in, Carolyn!