”If exercise could be packed in a pill, it would be the single most widely prescribed and beneficial medicine in the nation. ” -The National Institute on Aging
Exercise has accomplished more for Olympic medal winner Aileen Riggin Soule than just keeping her in remarkable condition. She took up swimming at the age of 11 in 1917, on
her doctor’s recommendation.
“I wasn’t a very healthy child,” she says. “I had anemia, I was very stoop-shouldered, and I had suffered a terrible bout of Spanish influenza.” She stood 4’10” tall and weighed only 65 pounds. Yet despite great odds, she went on to win the gold medal for three-meter springboard diving only three years later in the 1920 Antwerp Games. (She was almost denied a spot on the Olympic team because she was only 14 years old.) Four years later she won two more medals in the 1924 games in Paris.
Aileen has barely slowed down over the years. She still makes two or three half-mile swims each week, in the ocean off Oahu, Hawaii. In 1991, at the age of 85, she won a dozen gold medals in her age division at two different U.S. Masters swim championships.
In 1920, at the age of 14, Aileen Riggin Soule won her first gold medal. Here, at age 85, sheshows the form and grace that come from a life of fitness.
Never too late. Exercise may be the world’s greatest medicine and a natural antidote to the effects of aging. Regular fitness is one reason why Aileen Riggin Soule and many others are able to stay in top condition throughout their lives.
“Exercise will prevent most age-related deteriorations through age 60,” says Jim Graves of the University of Florida Center for Exercise Sciences. But the advantages don’t stop there. Seniors benefit from exercise more than any other age group. Studies have found that elderly men and women, even those in their nineties, can double their muscle strength by working out with weights.
One piece of the puzzle. But this increase in senior fitness is only a part of a larger movement-letting exercise playa a greater role in our lives. The benefits are amazing: ‘Exercise tones and conditions the muscles increases flexibility, and helps you avoid putting on weight. It will boost your heart and lung capacity and may lower your chances of developing heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. It even seems to brighten your mood, helping keep your spirits high.
The key is to understand that good health doesn’t mean devoting all your spare time to workouts; it means bringing exercise into your life. Avoiding labor-saving devices is a
good way to start. Try climbing the stairs instead of taking the elevator. Use a manual instead of an electric lawnmower.
And, of course, make fitness a lifelong commitment. For Aileen Riggin Soule that means spending her life around water.
“It’s very relaxing,” she says. “Swimming is a great sport for women, and it’s something you can do all your life. I’m afraid to stop-if I did, I’d fall apart.”